What Is PDCA? Understanding the Plan-Do-Check-Act Method

No matter the industry your organization operates in and the products and services you provide, your business needs to be constantly improving to keep up with a competitive marketplace and evolving consumer needs.

This process of change isn’t optional. It’s required if you want to succeed. The hard truth is that businesses that do not improve and evolve will eventually find themselves extinct.  

When change is required at your organization, how do you go about implementing it? Willy nilly action without planning can do more harm than good. Rather than approaching change blindly, you may want to borrow a concept from lean manufacturing philosophy — the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle. Read on to learn more.

What is PDCA?

PDCA, which stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act, is an iterative cycle for continuous improvement of people, products, services, and business processes.

The foundation for this concept was developed by American statistician and physicist Walter Shewhart who was passionate about using statistical analysis to create quality improvement. The model itself was developed years later by William Deming who took this concept and turned it into a learning and improvement cycle.

The PDCA model follows a four stage process, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

The Four Stages of the PDCA Model

As mentioned earlier, approaching change without a plan can spell disaster for your business. Along those same lines, acting on a plan without evaluating your progress can be just as dangerous.

The PDCA cycle aims to eliminate those issues with a four step process, where each step is imperative because it sets you up for success in the next stage. Let’s take a closer look at these steps and what they represent.

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1. Plan

To devise a plan that will successfully implement the desired change in your organization, you will need to ask the following questions:

  • What’s the problem you are experiencing?
  • What resources will you need to fix this issue?
  • What resources do you already have available to us at this time?
  • How can you best solve this issue with your available resources?
  • What does success look like?

Depending on the magnitude of the problem, this step may be quick and easy, or it may take weeks or even months of discussion to arrive at a plan. Theoretically, the more time you spend here, the easier the rest of the steps will be.

2. Do

With your plan in place, it’s time to put your ideas into practice. The most important thing to keep in mind during this stage is that issues will arise no matter how solid your plan is. Take these problems in stride and be willing (and able) to make adjustments as you go. This is often done in a smaller, controlled environment so you can learn from mistakes and correct them.

Proper communication amongst your team members will help to limit the number of problems as everyone will have a clear idea of their responsibilities and expectations.

3. Check

The most important (and overlooked) stage of change implementation is the “Check.” How did your plan work in the controlled environment? Were your goals achieved or did your intentions fall flat during execution? Now’s your time to identify the flaws in the process and correct them. Perhaps it wasn’t a complete flop, but you have recognized some opportunities for improved effectiveness. Either way, this step is essential.

4. Act

Now that you’ve planned out your change, applied it, and then checked to make sure it was working, it’s time to act on it. If you determined during the Check phase that you met your goals, you can apply your initial plan. This then becomes the “standard” process and best practices for this aspect of your organization. It also becomes the jumping-off point for your next change implementation.

The PDCA Cycle doesn’t stop once you’ve achieved your initial goal, as it is a continuous system that you should consistently review. The great news is that the more you work with it, the easier it becomes. It will be your go-to plan for every member of your team and will help you reach new heights with your business.

PDCA Template

Now that you understand how the PDCA process can help you implement change in your business, you’re probably wondering how to get started.

Like any new program, process, or tool, it’s helpful to have a physical document to work in to compile all of your information, share it with team members, and make updates as time goes on.

You can create your own in Excel or your project management tool or use one of the ready-made templates available to you. The key to a successful PDCA template is clarity. You should write out every step in detail, along with who is responsible for getting it done and by when. The more detailed your plan, the better your execution will be.

pdca cycle template

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PDCA Best Practices

Along with utilizing a PDCA template, a few other tips will help you implement changes successfully.

1. Ensure that upper management is on-board with these changes. Without their approval, you will not be able to enforce the new policy or procedure you create.

2. Never stop improving. Remember that PDCA isn’t a one-and-done type of procedure. Repeat this cycle constantly, making improvements with each revolution and looking for the next opportunity to create positive change.

3. Once you’ve implemented a policy change, do so across your entire organization. Every department that deals with whatever shift you are creating should adopt this as a new way of operating.

Over To You

Implementing change across your organization won’t be difficult when you learn to plan, do, check, and act.

It is, however, necessary if you want your business to continue growing and thriving. The organizations that reinvent themselves to better meet market needs, their customers, and their employees are the organizations that we will see far into the future.

Adopt the PDCA cycle today and create the best business you can make.

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