What is the PDCA cycle?
The Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle is a management method. Also known as the Deming cycle, or the Shewhart cycle, it involves 4 steps:
- Plan what you are doing
- Do what you said you would do
- Check that you did it right
- Act on anything that went wrong to avoid errors of the same nature in future
The PDCA cycle is flexible in that it can be applied to a project as a whole or each of the tasks within it.
The Plan stage is where you think about where you are at the moment, and decide where you want to be. This could be by deciding what you want to achieve and who will be responsible for helping you to achieve that. Use your customer's requirements to help you decide on your objectives.
Writing this down as a policy where appropriate can help communicate to your team how important this aim or objective is, even if how you achieve this goal later changes.
This stage also involves identifying any risks that could occur in carrying out your plans. Think about small as well as big risks and decide if you can cope with the consequences of these risks, or if new plans need to be put in place to mitigate them. See our article on risk management for more advice on this area.
The Do stage is where you implement your plan. Make sure that your team have the correct training and equipment to perform their tasks.
The Check stage involves measuring performance and checking that your plans have been implemented as written and will achieve your goals. Document everything so that you have evidence for the next stage.
The Act stage is where you review your performance and learn from it. Use the evidence gathered during the Check stage to help you make decisions about how successful the project has been so that you can take these learnings through to the next iteration of the PDCA cycle.
How does the PDCA cycle help with Continual Improvement?
As each step within the cycle supports the one following it, the cycle perfectly facilitates continual improvement in whatever it is applied to. When applied to a problem, the PDCA cycle aims to help you get to a solution through constant repetition of the cycle until that solution is achieved. When applied to a process or something without a definite solution such as the improvement of a business as a whole, the cycle would repeat indefinitely, incrementally improving that system every time.