Plan, Do, Check, Act: How to Use the PDCA Cycle

Last Updated on December 9, 2023 by Milton Campbell

If you’re looking for a way to improve your business processes, you may want to consider using the PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act, and it is an iterative, problem-solving approach to improving processes. In this post, we’ll learn more about the PDCA cycle and how you can use it to continually improve your organization.

What is the PDCA Cycle?

The PDCA cycle is a four-stage process improvement model for carrying out change. It was developed by physicist Walter Shewhart in the 1930s and popularized by quality management guru, Edwards Deming. PDCA is also known as the Deming Cycle, the Shewhart Cycle, or the PDSA cycle (Plan-Do-Study-Act).

The four stages of the PDCA cycle are designed to help you improve your work processes and achieve your goals. Here’s a more detailed explanation of each stage:

  1. Plan: The first stage of the PDCA cycle is to identify the problem or opportunity and create an initial plan. In this stage, you need to define the problem or opportunity clearly, set measurable goals, and develop a plan to achieve those goals. You should also consider any potential risks or roadblocks that may hinder your progress.
  2. Do: The second stage of the PDCA cycle is to implement the plan on a small scale. In this stage, you need to put your plan into action and test it on a small scale. This will allow you to see how well your plan works and identify any issues that need to be addressed.
  3. Check: The third stage of the PDCA cycle is to gather data and evaluate whether your proposed changes had the desired effect. In this stage, you need to measure the results of your plan and compare them to your goals. This will help you determine whether your plan was successful or whether you need to make adjustments.
  4. Act: The fourth stage of the PDCA cycle is to take action based on the results of your evaluation. If the changes went according to plan, you should implement them on a larger scale. If not, you should adjust your plan and try again. This stage is all about continuous improvement and making incremental changes to your work processes.

Overall, the PDCA cycle is an iterative process that allows you to continually improve your work processes and achieve your goals. By following the four stages of the PDCA cycle, you can identify problems and opportunities, develop a plan to address them, test your plan on a small scale, evaluate the results, and make adjustments as needed.

How Does the PDCA Cycle Work?

The PDCA cycle is an iterative process, which means that you go through the four stages repeatedly until you achieve the desired results. Each cycle builds on the previous one, and you make incremental changes to your work process.

The PDCA cycle works best in a controlled environment, where you can gather data and perform statistical analysis. However, you can also use it in project management, quality control, and other management practices.

Why Should You Use the PDCA?

If you’re looking for a way to improve your business processes, you may want to consider using the PDCA cycle. The PDCA cycle is a problem-solving approach that allows organizations to make continuous improvements to their work processes. In this section, we’ll explore some of the reasons why you should use the PDCA cycle.

1. Identifying and Addressing Problems

The PDCA cycle is a structured approach to problem-solving that helps organizations to identify and address problems. By following the four stages of the cycle – Plan, Do, Check, Act – organizations can define the problem, develop a plan to address it, and implement that plan on a small scale. This allows organizations to test their plan and make adjustments before implementing it on a larger scale.

2. Continuous Improvement

The PDCA cycle is a continuous improvement process that allows organizations to make incremental changes to their work processes. By continually evaluating and adjusting their processes, organizations can improve their efficiency and effectiveness. This approach helps organizations to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to changing circumstances.

3. Data-Driven Decision Making

The PDCA cycle is a data-driven approach to problem-solving. It requires organizations to gather data and evaluate the results of their plan. This data-driven approach helps organizations to make informed decisions and avoid making assumptions. By using data to inform their decisions, organizations can make more accurate and effective improvements to their work processes.

4. Flexibility

The PDCA cycle is a flexible approach to problem-solving. It allows organizations to adjust their plan based on the results of their evaluation. This flexibility allows organizations to adapt to changing circumstances and make adjustments as needed. This approach helps organizations to be more responsive to customer needs and market changes.

5. Employee Engagement

The PDCA cycle can also help to engage employees in the improvement process. By involving employees in the problem-solving process, organizations can tap into their knowledge and experience. This approach can help to build a culture of continuous improvement and encourage employees to take ownership of their work processes.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Example

Here’s an example of how you can use the PDCA cycle to improve your internal and external processes:

Plan

The first stage of the PDCA cycle is Plan. In this stage, the organization defines the problem, sets measurable goals, and develops a plan to achieve those goals. Let’s say that the problem is that the organization’s customer service team is receiving a high volume of calls and emails from customers who are experiencing long wait times and are dissatisfied with the service they are receiving.

The organization sets a goal to reduce customer wait times and improve customer satisfaction. The plan is to implement a new phone system that will allow customers to schedule a call back instead of waiting on hold. The organization will also provide additional training to the customer service team to improve their communication skills.

Do

The second stage of the PDCA cycle is Do. In this stage, the organization implements the plan on a small scale. The new phone system is tested with a small group of customers, and the customer service team receives additional training.

Check

The third stage of the PDCA cycle is Check. In this stage, the organization evaluates the results of the plan. The data shows that the new phone system has reduced customer wait times by 50%, and customer satisfaction has increased by 25%. However, the customer service team is still receiving a high volume of emails from dissatisfied customers.

Act

The fourth stage of the PDCA cycle is Act. In this stage, the organization makes adjustments to the plan based on the results of the evaluation. The organization decides to implement an online chat system to provide customers with an additional way to contact customer service. The customer service team also receives additional training on how to handle difficult customer interactions.

Repeat

Once the Act stage is complete, the organization goes back to the beginning of the PDCA cycle and starts again with the Plan stage. The organization continues to make incremental improvements to the customer service process using the PDCA cycle.

Remember that the PDCA cycle is a continuous process, and you should always be looking for ways to improve the quality of your work. Use smaller steps to make incremental changes and continually improve your processes.

Pros and Cons of The PDCA Cycle

The PDCA cycle is a popular problem-solving approach used by many organizations to improve their work processes. Like any other management tool, it has its pros and cons. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of using the PDCA cycle.

Pros of the PDCA Cycle

  1. Continuous Improvement: The PDCA cycle is a continuous improvement process that allows organizations to make incremental changes to their work processes. By continually evaluating and adjusting their processes, organizations can improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
  2. Structured Approach: The PDCA cycle provides a structured approach to problem-solving. It helps organizations to define the problem, set measurable goals, and develop a plan to achieve those goals. This structured approach helps to ensure that all aspects of the problem are considered and addressed.
  3. Data-Driven: The PDCA cycle is a data-driven approach to problem-solving. It requires organizations to gather data and evaluate the results of their plan. This data-driven approach helps organizations to make informed decisions and avoid making assumptions.
  4. Flexibility: The PDCA cycle is a flexible approach to problem-solving. It allows organizations to adjust their plan based on the results of their evaluation. This flexibility allows organizations to adapt to changing circumstances and make adjustments as needed.

Cons of the PDCA Cycle

  1. Time-Consuming: The PDCA cycle can be a time-consuming process. It requires organizations to gather data, evaluate the results, and make adjustments. This process can be time-consuming, especially for organizations with limited resources.
  2. Costly: The PDCA cycle can also be a costly process. It requires organizations to invest in data collection and analysis tools, as well as training for employees. This can be a significant investment for small organizations with limited budgets.
  3. Limited Scope: The PDCA cycle is designed to address specific problems or opportunities. It may not be suitable for addressing broader organizational issues. Organizations may need to use other problem-solving approaches to address more complex issues.
  4. Resistance to Change: The PDCA cycle requires organizations to make changes to their work processes. This can be met with resistance from employees who are used to the old way of doing things. Organizations may need to invest in change management strategies to overcome this resistance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the PDCA cycle is a simple, yet effective model for carrying out change. It is an iterative process that allows you to continually improve your work processes and enhance the quality of your work. By using methods like PDCA, you can improve your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness and stay ahead of the competition. If you want to learn more about the PDCA cycle, take some time to study the four steps of the process and apply them to your work.