The PDCA cycle is an invaluable model for continuously enhancing work processes by fostering a proactive and iterative approach to improvement.
Its purpose is to achieve continuous improvement by identifying issues, planning, and working on their enhancements, ultimately leading to constant refinement and increased efficiency.
PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, and Act, representing the four stages of this cycle. It is not a one-time process; rather, it can be repeatedly used to improve specific systems or processes.
In this article, we will provide a detailed explanation of the PDCA cycle for successful implementation. Let’s explore how it is applied, when to use it, and the benefits it offers.
What is the PDCA Cycle?
The PDCA Cycle is a dynamic method consisting of interconnected stages that operate on the principle of continuous improvement.
When one stage is completed, such as planning, it leads to the next one, which is doing in this case. Then, the third stage is checking, and it ends with the fourth and final one—action. This system allows for the cycle to be repeated, analyzed, and tested again.
At the end of each cycle, results are evaluated, new problems are identified, and the cycle begins anew. This constant progression and refinement drives continuous improvement.
Walter Shewhart first introduced this model in the 1930s, and W. Edwards Deming later embraced it. It is applicable in various fields of work, including manufacturing, healthcare, and service industries.
In today’s commercial world, where competition is fierce, the PDCA cycle has proven very useful for keeping up with the competition, constantly improving upon procedures, and avoiding being left in the dust by rivals.
4 Stages of PDCA Cycle
To complete a PDCA cycle, all stages must be developed. After one cycle, a new process begins with fresh data and identified problems, leading to ongoing improvement.
Let’s explore each stage step by step.
The first step is to define the final goal we want to achieve. After clarifying and specifying our goal, we need to analyze the current situation and identify the specific factors that hinder its progress.
Once we identify these problems, we need to develop a plan that outlines concrete actions and creates a strategy to solve the problems and achieve the desired goal.
For example, if our goal is to increase production quantity in the next three months, we analyze the current situation, identify the factors that are slowing down production, and create a plan to accelerate production in those areas.
In this phase, we need to implement the plan and take specific actions.
These actions will later demonstrate their effectiveness and provide insights on how they can be further developed and improved to achieve even better results. It is crucial to monitor the changes that occur as a result of the implemented activities. This allows us to identify potential new problems or opportunities for further improvement.
Referring back to our previous example of increasing production, this stage involves taking concrete actions such as refining packaging methods to save time, introducing new machinery to expedite work processes, or adding more employees to the production line.
The “Check” phase of the PDCA cycle is crucial as it involves assessing the effectiveness of the implemented activities. This phase aims to answer the question: Did the improvements actually occur? If the answer is affirmative, it is essential to determine the degree of improvement achieved.
This can be done through the use of graphs or other measurement tools. It is possible that improvements have occurred, but not in the exact way anticipated. In such cases, it is important to identify what went wrong, which activities did not have the intended impact, and what alternative approaches can be explored.
During the check phase, in our example of increasing production, an analysis is performed to measure the actual increase in production compared to the period prior to implementing the PDCA cycle.
Additionally, the effectiveness of individual activities is assessed to determine the percentage of improvement.
The final stage of the PDCA cycle is about making decisions and taking action. Based on the results obtained from the check phase, you need to determine your course of action. Your decision-making process can take two paths.
Firstly, if there was no improvement or if the achieved improvement was difficult to sustain or control, you should reconsider and discard the implemented change. In these cases, initiating a new process by introducing a different change becomes necessary.
On the other hand, if you are satisfied with the results of the change, you should explore ways to further enhance it. Consider whether the same approach can be applied to other areas or aspects.
In our example of increased production, if you have successfully achieved higher production levels through the implemented method and are satisfied with the results, you can continue to apply it consistently.
It can become a new way of operating. Additionally, you can explore the possibility of applying the same method to other product lines or areas.
When to Use PDCA Cycle
Continuous development requires continuous work. Even if an adequate plan is being implemented and its results are at an optimal level, there is always room for improvement in any field.
The recipe for success lies in the PDCA cycle. In line with this, we will present you with several situations in which you can successfully apply the PDCA cycle.
The most crucial phase in achieving results is the process. Monitor the process of your actions, and if you identify room for improvement, apply the PDCA approach. Identify what you would like to improve, create a plan on how to do it, implement the desired actions, and track whether it brings improvement to the process.
The PDCA cycle can be integrated into project management methodologies by periodically reviewing project progress, identifying areas for improvement, implementing corrective actions, and evaluating outcomes.
When encountering any problem and searching for its solution, the PDCA cycle will prove to be a suitable approach. By applying each phase of this methodology, you will break down the problem and be able to address each of its segments, leading you to a final solution and its implementation.
Why is the PDCA Cycle Important For Your Business?
Using the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle represents an organized approach to continuous improvement, both in personal and business contexts.
Let’s explore some of the key benefits of the PDCA cycle:
- Consistent refinement. The most significant benefit of the PDCA cycle is continuous progress. By implementing this cycle, we focus on achieving our set goals by constantly identifying shortcomings, taking concrete actions to address them, and monitoring their progress. This commitment and ongoing efficiency in our work demonstrate our dedication to constant improvement, allowing us to continually refine our skills and capabilities.
- Problem-solving. A major benefit of this method is the continuous effort to identify barriers hindering goal attainment and to find new solutions that can foster progress. Confronting problems instead of avoiding them is a notable advantage of this approach. By identifying issues and working on possible ways to solve them, we can achieve success.
- Employee engagement and empowerment. Implementing the PDCA cycle involves involving employees in the entire process, especially because they execute the work. Through their active participation, idea generation, and constructive discussions, you can collectively recognize problems and find solutions more effectively and efficiently.
The active involvement of employees promotes collaboration and feedback exchange, increases motivation, and ultimately leads to progress and higher productivity.
Real-Life PDCA Cycle Examples
Let’s see how two PDCA cycle examples would look in real-life situations.
Let’s imagine your team is facing deadline overruns, irregular deliveries, and consequent client dissatisfaction.
In such a scenario, the plan will establish project goals, address reasons for non-compliance, propose appropriate adjustments to project timelines, and suggest methods to enhance communication among team members as well as with clients, suppliers, and other project participants.
Take action based on the plan and assess the results brought by the changes; encourage communication; and empower your team to adhere to the task execution methods.
Continuously monitor whether team members are adhering to the revised deadlines, observe progress in their communication, and evaluate the results.
When the implementation phase of the PDCA cycle reaches its conclusion, analyze the project’s outcome, compare it with previous results, and, depending on the conclusions, either retain the principles or proceed with a new cycle of development.
What could a court do in terms of automation and sorting of numerous items?
During the court’s annual analysis of case statuses, they concluded that employees were expending significant and unnecessary effort, leading to a decline in the quality of their primary responsibilities. Based on this observation, the court devised a plan to implement long-awaited automation in processing statistical data.
They hired a company to set up a system that would handle this task with minimal human oversight. A budget was allocated, employees underwent training, and a period of adaptation was established for all staff members.
This plan resulted in a significant qualitative and quantitative increase in efficiency across all segments, accompanied by an inevitable boost in revenue.
As a result, the court decided to continue implementing and improving such a system.
PDCA Cycle vs. Kaizen
While the essence of the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle and the Japanese Kaizen method is similar—aiming for continuous improvement—their approaches differ.
The PDCA cycle focuses on specific projects or processes, aiming to identify and resolve efficiency issues. It involves planning, executing, checking results, and making necessary adjustments for continuous improvement. If the problem is effectively resolved, the cycle can terminate, closing the continuous loop.
On the other hand, the Kaizen method embodies a culture of continuous improvement that is not limited to specific processes. Its goal is for every individual to make progress and continuously enhance their skills and knowledge every day.
Kaizen emphasizes ongoing improvement in all aspects of the organization.
The effectiveness and sustainability of the PDCA cycle can be attributed to its simplicity. This method is applicable not only in the business world but also among professional athletes, artists, and others.
When you are aware of the areas that require improvement and how to break them down into components, you can begin to organize things accordingly. This is when your ideas and creativity come into play when it comes to finding solutions.
After analyzing the implemented changes, you will know whether you have achieved your desired results. If the answer is no, you can start the cycle again!
PDCA Cycle FAQ
#1. How does the PDCA cycle work?
The PDCA cycle includes four phases: Identify the problem and then create a plan for its solution. Implement the plan and monitor its stages. Study the obtained results and decide whether to adopt the implemented plan. If it does not bring the desired results, start the cycle again with different ideas.
#2. What is the difference between the PDCA cycle and Six Sigma?
Although they have many similarities, these two methods differ in the sense that Six Sigma focuses more on detecting defects specific to manufacturing or service processes. Therefore, it is often applied in manufacturing processes. On the other hand, PDCA is a more generalized approach that can be applied to various processes.
#3. What is the difference between PDCA and PDSA?
PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) is also a four-stage model aimed at problem-solving but with a focus on the learning phase. In contrast to the PDCA model, where plan results are compared to expected outcomes, in PDSA, the emphasis is on what has been learned. That’s why the PDSA cycle is commonly used in healthcare and clinical research.