Integrate this problem-solving tool into your business strategy and get answers to the following questions: What is the PDCA cycle? Why is it important? What are its stages and examples?
Published 6 May 2022
The PDCA or Plan-Do-Check-Act is a four-step cyclical and problem-solving method that organizations use for continuous process improvement. Each stage of the PDCA cycle contributes to the goal of identifying which business processes work and which of them needs further improvement. This methodical approach is also utilized to avoid recurring mistakes and errors in operations.
The PDCA cycle was first introduced by Dr. Walter Andrew Shewhart in 1939. It was then further developed by Dr. William Edwards Deming in the 1950s to help organizations achieve progressive improvements and monitor the quality of changes in their processes. This cycle—also dubbed as the Deming Wheel—has since been a widely used strategy tool for businesses and organizations across all industries.
This process-improvement model is best characterized as a continuous loop where the cycle is restarted if one of the elements in the implemented change is found to be ineffective, and repeated over and over until the most desired outcome is reached.
The PDCA process consists of four stages (also known as the PDCA steps): Plan, Do, Check, and Act. It aims to solve problems and implement change in a methodical manner. So, what is the role of each stage in the whole cycle?
The PDCA Cycle
First, note that this stage is the backbone of the whole cycle so you have to be as comprehensive and as detailed as possible.
Specifically describe the problem to be solved and state why it is important to be addressed. Discuss objectives and create Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals that your team members and relevant stakeholders agree upon. Aside from that, the end of this stage should materialize in a comprehensive plan answering information-building questions such as:
Essentially, all elements factoring in the project should be stated and planned at this stage before moving on to the next.
Since you’ve identified potential solutions to the problem in the first stage—”Do” is the part where you’ll execute them. Apply the changes but only on a small scale or controlled environment such as specific department, project, or with just a particular demographic.
This is to ensure that if ever the changes were ineffective or if they resulted in a negative impact to your process or business, there won’t be much damage to deal with and minimal resources were used.
After the initial testing, gather all the relevant data to show if the recognized potential solutions worked or not.
This is the analysis stage—with your data from the previous stage, evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented solutions. Compare them to the success criteria included in the planning stage.
Assess if the result is already satisfactory and the solutions are already working according to the objective, or if they need further improvements to achieve the overall goal.
If further adjustments are needed, go back to the first stage—Plan—and try other alternatives that you think could work to solve the problem. If it’s considered a success, however, you can now proceed to the next stage, Act.
Once you’ve recognized the effectiveness of the solutions, “Act” is the stage where you’ll fully implement them as part of your business process.
To continuously achieve greater and more standardized results, it will be helpful to also address the following questions:
The PDCA method is a simple yet powerful tool that gives you the option to repeat the cycle if you think that the solutions can still be improved. In some cases, you may need to go through the four stages again if there are factors or changes that could affect the way the implemented solutions work.
The PDCA cycle is one of the widely used methods of monitoring quality management systems and is applicable to international standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 45001, and ISO 27001. It allows organizations to gather relevant information and use it as a well-grounded basis before deciding whether to proceed with the plan or improve it further. Through this data-driven method, organizations can work to continuously improve their processes, products, and services.
The continuous approach of PDCA also offers time-saving opportunities by catching mistakes early on in the project. This helps strengthen the efficiency of the cycle and eliminates ineffective elements until an ideal solution is identified.
Furthermore, the PDCA cycle is versatile—it can be used across all industries, by big businesses, and even by specific teams or departments within a company.
Below is an example of how to use the PDCA cycle:
Scenario: An auto supply company is experiencing customer service issues caused byproduct shipping delays. The supply chain manager chose the PDCA method to identify solutions and avoid the occurrence of the same setback in the future.
Identify the problem:
Three customers experienced a two-week delay before receiving the products they ordered from us. Two of them ordered a box of side-view mirrors, while the other one ordered five new batteries.
The objective of this cycle is to understand what caused the delay and to avoid it from happening again and prevent our customers from having a bad experience.
Because of this, we received a complaint from the customers saying the delay also caused a setback in their operations. We gave the customers a huge discount to compensate for what happened. No bad reviews (so far).
We did an investigation and discovered that the cause of the hold up was an unexpected delay from our supplier for the specified vehicle parts. Our supplier’s facility is situated in Texas and was recently hit with a strong cyclone, which also interfered with their production.
The main action plan for this is to find an alternative supplier that can provide us with the mentioned products in case something like this happens again or in case of emergencies.
We’ve sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to possible alternative suppliers and filtered out the options based on our set requirements.
Now that we were able to solve this problem using this solution, let’s fully implement it across our other products. Find alternatives and take into consideration the factors specified in this cycle.
Based on the use of the PDCA cycle done to solve the existing problem, the solution identified and implemented was effective. The auto supply company now has a fallback in case a delay in the production is observed. They would also be able to prevent instances like this from affecting their own customers, which is the main goal of the plan.
The PDCA cycle involves a lot of information, changes, and updates per use. It should be streamlined for easy tracking and to serve its documentation purpose through storing all of the relevant data in one accessible space.
iAuditor by SafetyCulture is a digital tool that industry leaders can use in monitoring PDCA cycles across various industries. With iAuditor, you can track your progress regularly and also do the following:
Try iAuditor for free!
Use this template in creating a comprehensive step-by-step action plan while implementing the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) method. This PDCA template contains a general set of details applicable across all industries and can be utilized by big or small organizations. Use this template in iAuditor to easily do the following:
This template is based on the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle. Use this template to establish Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) objectives by identifying hazards and determining legal requirements, among others. Create implementation plans to achieve continuous improvement in your OH&S management system using this template.
Jaydee Reyes is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her six-year experience in the field of data research and media monitoring adds expertise and quality to her work. She is also a champion of leveraging technology to promote a culture of safety in workplaces around the world. As a content specialist, she aims to help companies adapt to digital changes through interesting and informational articles.
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