the pdca cycle


The Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle or PDCA Cycle has been around for years but its effectiveness and use sees no end. This four-phase approach to continuous improvement has been performed by many companies across different industries. It has been the basis of other methodologies and project management strategies as well. But what does the PDCA cycle mean and what makes it effective in driving continuous improvement?

What is the Plan Do Check Act Cycle?

History shares that the PDCA cycle was popularized by Dr. William Edwards Deming, renowned engineer and statistician. But Deming actually improved upon the work of Dr. Walter Shewhart, who’s said to be the father of statistical quality control. Both of them believed that processes should be analyzed to identify variations and their causes. That’s why it’s also referred to as the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle, with some slight variations.

It was in the 1950s when the PDCA cycle was formalized by Deming as a scientific method to analyze why products or business processes aren’t successful as businesses would hope. The idea of the PDCA cycle is subjecting products or business processes into an experiment to analyze how they can be improved. Here is a diagram that explains how the PDCA cycle works.

The four stages of the PDCA cycle illustrated as they follow: Plan, Do, Check, Act

Let’s discuss each phase in the PDCA cycle.

The Four Phases in the PDCA Cycle

Plan

The Plan phase is where we define what problem or opportunity we want to tackle. This means we need to articulate what the problem or opportunity is and why it is such. This is why it’s important to gather information and data to quantify the extent of the problem. This will allow us to set a baseline for the current state of the product or process. We will then use those baseline data to assess any improvement efforts and whether they are successful or not. Once we know where the current product or process stands, we then need to define what our success metrics are.

We also prepare solution options or alternatives in the Plan phase. You can test one solution at a time or launch multiple small projects to experiment with multiple solutions at once. This will depend on the resources you have as well. 

Here’s the list of minimum items you need to pin down during the Plan phase.

  • The problem or opportunity definition
  • Data of the current state
  • Resources available to test solutions
  • List of solutions to test
  • Success metrics 

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Do

In the Do phase, we test each solution in a small-scale project or environment. This is to minimize any adverse impact to the live production line. There can be unexpected issues that creep up as you do your experiments so it’s best to implement them in a controlled environment. Make sure that you are keeping track of data based on the success metrics you have identified in the Plan phase.

Check

The Check phase is where you and your team analyze how the experiment went. This is where you assess each solution’s viability and effectiveness. Use the data you’ve gathered in the Do phase and review how the results go against your success metrics. Be sure to also highlight any problems or issues that appeared during your experiment. 

The goal is to assess whether the solution is viable enough to be implemented in a larger-scale project.

Act

If your solution is viable enough to be implemented in your live production environment, then the Act phase is when to execute that. There can also be times when you need to adjust your solution approach and re-test it again. 

In both instances, you create a new baseline state for your product or process. You will have a new set of data to work with. And in the spirit of continuous improvement, you engage in a new cycle.

Why You Should Use the PDCA Cycle

If you’re wondering what benefits you’ll get by doing the PDCA Cycle, here are four compelling reasons.

The four benefits of PDCA illustrated as a staircase to continuous improvement
  • Test solutions in a controlled environment to avoid full-scale adverse effects
  • Implement standardized procedures 
  • Increase the success rate of projects
  • Instill a continuous improvement mindset in your team

The PDCA cycle, when implemented properly, is bound to create a culture of continuous improvement or kaizen in your organization. You are essentially creating a team of problem solvers and innovators by providing a framework to do experiments and drive effective solutions. 

Kaizen

Creating continuous improvement is the core of the Kaizen concept. The fundamental idea is that small ongoing changes can have a significant impact. Kaizen relies on commitment and cooperation as opposed to other methods that focus on drastic top-down changes to effective transformation.

Initially, Kaizen was designed for the manufacturing industry to lower defects, eliminate waste, boost productivity, encourage worker purpose and accountability and promote innovation. Now, it’s applied to various industries and even on an individual level.

PDCA Cycle and Lean Management

The PDCA cycle is one of the tools you can use for your Lean Management journey. One of the key problems of businesses is the generation of business waste – both product-related and process-related. These wastes slow down your company’s growth. By implementing kaizen bursts and using the PDCA cycle as your framework, you can eliminate business wastes and make your processes leaner. Another lean tool you can have at your disposal when doing kaizen is Kanban. You can use this tool to facilitate your PDCA implementation as well.

Continuous improvement is a key ingredient to any company’s continued success. Using tools like the PDCA cycle will not only help you kickstart your improvement initiatives but create lasting positive change for your company as well.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.