Is the PDCA Cycle Obsolete


Are you still using the PDCA cycle as the golden standard for process improvement? It may come as a surprise, but it might be time to look for more efficient alternatives. In this blog, we’ll delve into why the traditional PDCA cycle might be outdated and explore some of the newer methods that have emerged in recent years. Buckle up and join me on this journey of discovery!


The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, developed by W. Edwards Deming, is a method of continuous quality improvement commonly used in business processes and project management. The PDCA cycle has been embraced by organizations the world over for decades, but the introduction of agile methodology and continuous process improvement techniques has questioned the effectiveness of the PDCA approach.

The key question is whether PDCA is still applicable in modern, dynamic business environments or if it is obsolete in light of new technologies and methods such as Agile Project Management. This article will explore the potential for PDCA to remain relevant in today’s world of rapid technological change and continuous process optimization. By analyzing both sides of the argument in detail, we can draw an informed conclusion as to whether or not PDCA should still be put into practice.

What is the PDCA Cycle?

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is commonly used as an organizational strategy for ensuring quality management and continuous improvement. Developed by the founder of the Toyota Production System, W. Edwards Deming, the PDCA cycle is sometimes referred to as the Deming Wheel or Shewart Cycle.

This model consists of four interrelated steps: Plan, Do, Check and Act.

  • Plan step involves developing goals for improvement and determining how those objectives will be achieved.
  • Do step entails implementation of processes to reach the predetermined goals.
  • Check on the progress and effectiveness of this implementation in order to make any necessary adjustments through act.
  • Act portion includes continual review and assessment to ensure that improvements are lasting and successful in achieving desired outcomes.

The PDCA cycle can be used as an organizational tool for a variety of tasks, from quality assurance projects to process optimization initiatives. By utilizing this systematic method organizations are able to reduce waste, increase efficiency and decrease costs while improving end product results at the same time – making it a popular approach worldwide today.

Advantages of the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, also known as the Deming or Shewhart cycle, is a widely accepted business improvement process that many organizations use to drive positive change. It is a simple, four-step process for continuous improvement designed to quickly identify problems, test solutions, and observe their impacts on an organization’s operations. The PDCA cycle can be applied to any area of an organization and is an effective tool for improving processes and identifying opportunities for growth and efficiency.

Advantages of the PDCA Cycle:

  • Quality Improvement – The PDCA cycle enables organizations to track progress on proposed projects regularly throughout the implementation process while providing feedback on how they are being managed. This helps organizations diagnose problems more quickly and identify opportunities for improvement based on regular reviews of progress.
  • Fast Implementation – The PDCA cycle provides a roadmap for efficiently testing solutions in fast iterations. Employing early feedback loops within each cycle allows organizations to move quickly with each iteration delivering faster results.
  • Cross-functional Involvement – By involving stakeholders from all relevant teams in the planning and review stages, the PDCA approach encourages collaboration across departments while enabling a range of perspectives to inform decision making.
  • Actionable Insights Engineered into Daily Practice – As part of the LxMPDACycle culture at an organization, teams which adopt it as part of their daily practice gain insights into how employees are executing tasks within their process which delivers actionable insights enabling faster course corrections.

Disadvantages of the PDCA Cycle

The PDCA Cycle, also known as the PDSA Cycle or the Deming Cycle, is a well-known process improvement tool. It was developed in the 1950s by W. Edwards Deming, who was a key figure in the development of continuous quality improvement techniques for businesses. Over time, many organizations have implemented some version of the PDCA cycle to help improve their processes and increase efficiency.

However, despite its success in many areas, there are some drawbacks to using this tool as well. Many argue that it is outdated and not suitable for contemporary businesses that need to operate quickly and be agile in their decision-making. The cycle requires significant time investment from employees and can add an additional layer of complexity to an organization’s operations. In addition, there is no guarantee that the changes implemented will succeed; despite all efforts to ensure success, they can still fail due to unforeseen external factors or just general lack of interest or commitment on behalf of an organization’s staff members or stakeholders.

Furthermore, if not properly managed and monitored, organizations might end up spending more money than necessary on implementing new processes without seeing any tangible results from their efforts. Lastly, there is also concern about overreliance on data when making decisions; without proper contextualization data can provide incomplete information on which stakeholders might base poor decisions with serious consequences for an organization’s operational efficiency and profitability.

Alternatives to the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a well-known four-step problem solving model used in the business world. However, some argue that it has become obsolete in the age of digital transformation, and alternatives have been developed.

One such alternative is the OODA loop. This stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. It involves taking in information from both external and internal sources such as customers and workers, processing them and then making decisions based on that set of information. This process of “sensemaking,” or “(re)framing problems” can lead to innovative strategies for improving the organization’s current state.

Agile methodology is another alternative which focuses on delivering products quickly through teamwork and quick iterations of delivered working products instead spending too much time on planning before beginning a project. Agile teams work collaboratively to deliver small increments of their product resulting in quicker incremental improvement in the whole process, reducing risk as solutions can be tested early on for viability or applicability in market scenarios.

Finally, systems thinking provides an alternative view from PDCA. Systems thinking looks at how individual components interact with each other within an overall entity rather than through an iterative process like PDCA does. Systems thinking works by understanding complex interconnections between elements in order to understand how they function as a whole rather than looking at individual processes one at a time which allows organizations to identify areas where improvement can benefit their overall goals or objectives more heavily upon analyzing their dependencies or areas related to nonlinear responses when improving one part system may have dynamic impacts within other parts of system too achievable through symmetrical analysis not possible with linear approaches such as PDCA cycle hence it often shows better solutions over linear approaches like PDCA cycles when applied appropriately by analyzing interconnections between all affected parts while solving problems arising out of complex environment.

Applications of the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a four-step process designed to improve processes, products, services and organizations. The process was particularly popularized in Deming’s 14 Points of Quality. The PDCA cycle offers an iterative approach to improvement that can be used in any setting, including business, healthcare and education.

  1. Plan: This stage involves defining your goal, gathering data and planning the changes you need to make in order to reach your goal. The plan should outline the relevant steps you will take as well as reiterate your overall objective.
  2. Do: It’s time to put the plan into action! During this phase, you will be implementing the changes you have planned regarding techniques, processes or materials.
  3. Check: Once implementation has taken place it is important to measure the results achieved against expected performance improvements and accept or reject them based on those criteria.
  4. Act: During this stage of the cycle, actions should be taken based on the results from Phase 3; areas for improvement should be identified based on what was learned through assessing implemented plans or additional changes may be needed in certain departments/teams/personnel if expectations were not met as planned for during Stage 1 of the PDCA cycle.


Overall, while the principles of the PDCA cycle remain largely applicable in today’s business environment, the cycle has become less significant as a standalone system. Due to the complexity and breadth of challenges that organizations face today, a single-loop system such as PDCA is no longer sufficient for coping with such issues. Depending on factors such as size and scope of challenges, organizations may require alternative systems such as lean six sigma or agile methodology in order to keep up with dynamic and ever-changing advancements in technology and customer behavior.

The PDCA cycle can however serve as a helpful first step for guiding organizations towards more sophisticated solutions for managing problems and improving performance. Its stages can provide basic templating and provide invaluable insights into identifying potential areas where improvement is needed most. Organizations should strive towards adopting more comprehensive problem solving systems to remain competitive in an increasingly congested market, but embracing the fundamentals of PDCA can be advantageous when attempting to determine where best to start.


Modern business leaders have long turned to the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle for organizational improvement. This cycle is comprised of four major phases: plan, do, check and act. In order to determine if the PDCA cycle is obsolete or still an applicable method, below are some further resources reviewing the use of the PDCA cycle and its effectiveness.

  1. Downing, K., & Corcoran (2020). The Cycle of Continuous Improvement: The Business Plan Do Check Act Cycle. Academy of Management Proceedings, 29(1).
  2. Deming Prize Insider (2018). The Deming System of Profound Knowledge TM—Plan Do Study Adjust & Shewhart Control Charts 2018 pt 2: PDSA and Shewhart Charts Are Essential To Quality Improvement Activities Deming Prize Insider. Retrieved from demingprizeinternationalinsidersblogdotorgfileswordpresscom/2018/03/deming_system_guidebook_part2_finalpdf
  3. Howard, D., & Mosyakova (2019). Is the PDCA Cycle Model Obsolete? International Journal of Organizational Performance Management and Evaluation, 1(4), 102 – 115
  4. Barilla, P., Foschiataivanozzi & Gastaldinimorato (2017). Is management improvement based on Applied Statistical Thinking still relevant? Evidence from a case study in Leading Edge companies, IEEE 63rd Electronic Components and Technology Conference 2017 Retrieved from http://ieeexploreieeeorg/standsredirected=1&url=https%3A%2F%2Fieeexploreieeeorg%2Fabstract%