What Is the PDCA Cycle?

The PDCA cycle is a simple four-step approach to continuous improvement. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is an approach widely used in manufacturing businesses to introduce incremental changes to processes, services, and products.

The PDCA cycle is all about testing out ideas or alternatives on a small scale before committing to large, complex, or expensive changes.

By approaching new initiatives within a plan-do-check-act framework, your organization can try out new processes or maintenance procedures, assess the results, and implement the approach that best suits your requirements.

“Just as a circle has no end, the PDCA cycle should be repeated again and again for continuous improvement. The PDCA cycle is considered a project planning tool.”


Where Does Plan-Do-Check-Act Come From?

The PDCA model is an essential part of the lean manufacturing philosophy, along with well-known concepts like Lean Six Sigma and Kaizen.

Originally described by American engineer W. Edwards Deming, the PDCA cycle evolved out of Deming’s work and the work of his contemporary fellow engineer Walter Shewhart. After WWII, Deming undertook extensive work with Japanese industry leaders, like Toyota. These industry leaders were beginning to gain international renown for their incredibly efficient lean manufacturing processes.

In fact, Deming preferred the term PDSA, noting that Study rather than Check represented a more practical lens to see if a proposed change was worth implementing.

The PDCA cycle is also referred to as the Plan-Do-Study-Act or PDSA Cycle, the Deming Cycle, the Deming Wheel, or the Shewhart Cycle.

How to Use the PDCA Methodology in Detail

Let’s look at how you can apply these four steps in a manufacturing environment.

1. Plan

Plan what needs to be done

The planning stage can be broken down into smaller steps. This crucial stage can take up a significant amount of time and effort by your team. But, it’s important if you want the cycle to work.

Proper planning prevents poor performance, so it’s worth giving this step the time and energy it deserves. Here you determine the baseline, plan what resources are needed, and consider how you will measure success.

In the planning stage, gather your team for a problem-solving session to discuss the following:

  • What the core problem is you want to solve
  • What quality improvement or cost reduction you want to achieve
  • What resources do you need vs. what resources you already have on hand
  • What potential solutions are worth pursuing
  • How you will measure success

2. Do

Execute the plan

It’s time for action–take small steps to apply the new methods or processes you arrived at in your planning phase. This stage may take some time. It can involve changes to production or maintenance processes or training staff on new work practices.

3. Check

Review and analyze the data

You’ll find out if your early planning worked in the check phase. Did you reach the expected goal as expected? What challenges did you encounter along the way? Finally, compare your results with the current business-as-usual process.

4. Act

Implement the new process or method

After drawing conclusions from the data and deciding that the new approach will be successful, it’s time to act. Remember the plan-do-check-act cycle is an iterative process. You may need to start over with a new plan if you haven’t found a satisfactory solution.

Regardless of the outcome, the information you have extracted from the testing process can be recorded and applied to your continuous improvement processes, bringing you back to the beginning of the PDCA cycle.

How the PDCA Process Affects Your Company

Whether you changed a manufacturing process, revised a maintenance program, introduced a new piece of equipment, or designed a new product, the outcome of your PDCA process is likely to affect other teams and departments.

When the PDCA cycle introduces a change to a process, be sure to update your standard operating procedures, maintenance checklists, worksheets, training manuals, and any other materials impacted by the change.

Likewise, alert production workers and maintenance crews to the new processes. Make sure they know how to move forward safely and efficiently.

Failure to update key business processes across the organization can lead to incorrect procedures, increased reworks or quality assurance (QA) failures, and potential safety issues for maintenance staff if they continue working from outdated manuals or instructions.

It may take some time for these issues to bubble to the surface, making the root cause more difficult to pinpoint.

With any process improvement, quality control is vital. Therefore, in your planning stage, create a comprehensive list of the processes, people, and plants to update once you implement the new approach.

Using Technology to Apply the PDCA Cycle Smoothly

Making sure continuous improvement is applied consistently in your organization comes down to good project management skills. Using the right resources to plan, track, and review changes will help you seamlessly introduce new ways of working to everyone on your team.

Examples of helpful resources can include physical reminders such as kanban boards or visual cues such as color-coding, floor tape, machinery guards, or signage to help employees remember new processes.

A good “paper” trail is important too, which is where online process management and maintenance software is most beneficial.

A CMMS platform provides a simple, secure, and easily accessible repository for all your updated manuals, standard operating procedures, and work order maintenance schedules. By sharing this new documentation with your production and maintenance teams, you can be sure that everyone has access to the most up-to-date information at all times.

CMMS tools like MaintainX also allow analysis and reporting, so you can review the results of your PDCA endeavors and ensure your entire team remains focused on continuous improvement.

Check out MaintainX. It’s free.

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Caroline Eisner

Caroline Eisner is a writer and editor with experience across the profit and nonprofit sectors, government, education, and financial organizations. She has held leadership positions in K16 institutions and has led large-scale digital projects, interactive websites, and a business writing consultancy.

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