Also known as Shewhart Cycle and Deming Wheel.
Variants include PDSA Cycle and OPDCA.
A PDCA cycle is a four-step model for problem solving and continuous improvement. It provides a simple and structured way for solving problems and creating positive change. It is widely recognized as the basis of continually improving the quality of processes, products, and services. The PDCA cycle is an easy to remember four logical sequenced steps which are Plan, Do, Check and Act.
The PDCA cycle model can be applied in most kinds of projects and improvement activities. For example, it can be used when planning to improve the skill level of employees in an organization, when planning to change the supplier of a product or service, or when planning to increase the quality of care and patient engagement in a hospital. It can be applied whether the intended improvement is a breakthrough or incremental.
Another common example is when you are dealing with customer complaints. You may often need to review the complaints, categorize and prioritize them, produce solution ideas to deal with the most frequent complaints, conduct pilot surveys with sample customers to test new options, collect and analyze customer data and feedback, and use the lessons learned to implement the new options in full scale. What we have just listed is actually a PDCA cycle.
It is important to note that the PDCA model stands at the core of all quality systems. TQM, ISO standards and the A3 thinking process are all based around the PDCA philosophy. Additionally, PDCA represents the logical way of thinking we tend to follow when solving problems and implementing continuous improvement. The aim is to get closer to whatever goal you are trying to accomplish.
The Four Phases of the PDCA Cycle
The PDCA cycle begins with a Planning phase where the problem and objectives are clearly identified. In this phase, the team agrees on the problem to be solved or the process to be improved. You then need to analyze the current situation, identify solution alternatives, and select and schedule the most promising solution.
The selected solution is then tested on a small scale basis in the Do phase. This phase also involves measuring the progress and collecting data and feedback for later analysis.
Check involves analyzing the collected data and feedback, and comparing the outcome against the planned objectives. It allows to evaluate how well the solution has worked and whether further improvement is needed. This phase is also concerned with identifying the unexpected issues and gathering and summarizing the key learnings. Note that you may need to repeat the Do and Check several times until you achieve the desired results.
Act is where you implement the solution in full scale. It involves taking actions based on what you learned in the Check phase. A plan should be created for the full implementation after evaluating the costs and benefits associated. Act is also concerned with standardizing, documenting, sustaining the improved process, and integrating it into the organization’s system.
The use of the PDCA cycle doesn’t necessarily stop once the Act phase is completed. The improved process may become the new baseline, and you may start again at the Plan phase. Multiple iterations of the PDCA cycle could be necessary to solve the problem permanently and reach the ultimate future state. Each cycle will bring you closer to your goals and will extend your knowledge further.
A common example often used to illustrate the PDCA cycle is when a team is initiating a new product development.
Another example is when a lab team is planning to solve a customer complaint about the delayed test results at a laboratory.
In the 1990s, a modified version of the PDCA cycle was introduced. It was called PDSA cycle where ‘S’ stands for Study. It is believed that data analysis is important for any improvement effort, and “Checking” does not really imply studying and analyzing the data.
OPDCA is another version of PDCA where ‘O’ stands for Observe. The Observe is added at the front of the cycle to emphasize the need to observe before creating any plan. The goal of observation is to find out what is really happening and what can be improved.
You may find it useful to use the following tools in each phase of the PDCA/PDSA cycle:
- Plan – process mapping, brainstorming, waste analysis, prioritization matrix, improvement roadmap, gap analysis, and force field analysis.
- Do – Gantt chart, dashboard, data collection methods, sampling, observation, check sheet, and control chart.
- Check/Study – graphical analysis, statistical analysis, 5 whys, fishbone diagram, Pareto analysis, root cause analysis, and decision-making techniques.
- Act – process mapping, Gantt chart, dashboard, control chart, control plan, visual management, and standard work.
There are many tools that can help you to plan and monitor your project activities using the PDCA model. One of the simplest ways is to use this PDCA template.
If you want to use the following three documents in your training courses, the PPTX versions are available to buy from our Shop page.