What Is the PDCA Cycle?

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle is a four-step problem-solving iterative technique used to improve business processes. Originally developed by American physicist Walter A. Shewhart during the 1920s, the cycle draws its inspiration from the continuous evaluation of management practices and management’s willingness to adopt and disregard unsupported ideas.

The method was popularized by quality control pioneer Dr. W Edwards Deming in the 1950s and first coined the term “Shewhart” Cycle after his mentor. It was Deming who realized the PDCA Cycle could be used to improve production processes in the U.S. during World War II.

Given its cyclical nature, the PDCA Cycle is something businesses can put in place once and then use to continuously iterate and improve their operations.

How the PDCA Cycle Works

The PDCA Cycle can help differentiate a company from its competition, especially in today’s corporate world, where anything that can help them streamline their processes to reduce costs, increase profits, and improve customer satisfaction can offer an advantage.

Many managers, potentially unknowingly, use the PDCA Cycle to help direct their organizations, as it encompasses the very basic tenets of strategic planning. The four components of the PDCA check are outlined below.

Plan

A well-defined project plan provides the framework from which to operate. Importantly, it should reflect the organization’s mission and values. It should also map the project's goals and clearly indicate the best way to meet them.

Do

This the step where the plan is set in motion. The plan was made for a reason, so it is important for players to execute it as outlined. This stage can be broken down into three sub-segments, including training of all personnel involved in the project, the actual process of doing the work and recording insights, or data, for future evaluation.

Check

Typically, there should be two checks throughout the project. First, checks should be done alongside implementation to make sure that the project's objectives are being met. Second, a more comprehensive review of the project should be done upon completion to allow for successes and failures to be addressed, and for future adjustments to be made.

Action

Corrective actions are made in the final step. Once past mistakes have been identified and accounted for, the PDCA Cycle can be redefined and repeated anew in the future, perhaps to better results under new guidelines.

Benefits of the PDCA Cycle

Companies looking to enhance their internal and external processes often deploy the PDCA methodology to minimize errors and maximize outcomes. Once put into effect, companies can repeat the PDCA Cycle and make it a constant in their organization as something of a standard operating procedure. That one of the four stages is to deploy corrective actions makes the methodology ideal to strive for continuous improvement.

Key Takeaways

  • The PDCA Cycle is a four-step technique that is used for problem-solving in business.
  • Many managers unknowingly use the PCDA Cycle as it encompasses much of the same framework as strategic management.
  • The last step of the PDCA Cycle (action) calls for corrective actions to be made, allowing the system to be used for continuous improvement by businesses.