Is the PDCA Cycle Obsolete


The PDCA cycle has been a cornerstone of project management for decades. But with the increasing speed of technology, is this cycle still effective and necessary? Let’s dive into the debate to see if the PDCA cycle can stand up to modern demands!


The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a tool used in both the business and healthcare arenas to make improvements and foster continuous improvement. It was first outlined in 1950 by Walter Shewhart, an engineer and statistician who worked while the quality movement was being developed. The goal of the PDCA cycle is to provide structure for identifying problems, carrying out solutions, monitoring their effectiveness and then making adjustments when needed.

In today’s fast-paced businesses and healthcare organizations, does it make sense to rely on a tool that was created nearly 70 years ago? While the principles of PDCA still apply, some researchers have suggested that the traditional approach should be updated with newer strategies that may be better suited for modern challenges. In this article, we will examine whether or not these updates mean that PDCA is an outdated practice or whether it is still relevant in our current times.

Definition of PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) Cycle, also referred to as the Shewhart cycle or Deming cycle, is a continuous quality improvement methodology that is used by organizations and individuals to drive continual improvement over time. The PDCA cycle enables organizations to break down big ideas into small, achievable steps and ensure continuous and ongoing improvement efforts are met in line with organizational goals.

At its core, the PDCA process is based on four simple steps:

  1. Plan – Identify key objectives and strategies.
  2. Do – Develop a roadmap for achieving objectives through activities.
  3. Check – Monitor progress toward meeting objectives.
  4. Adjust – Make necessary changes to improve process performance.

These steps provide structure to the entire process of achieving continuous improvement in line with desired outcomes. Despite changes in technology, tools and processes over time, the basic principles of the PDCA cycle remain substantially intact. The effectiveness of this model has enabled it to remain relevant for years even amidst rapidly evolving business environments.

Advantages of PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle is a popular continual improvement method that enables organizations and individuals to assess opportunities for improvement and solve problems. Despite the rise in newer, more advanced methods of problem solving, the PDCA Cycle remains favored by many due to a variety of advantages it provides.

One advantage of the PDCA Cycle is its flexibility. While many other problem-solving models are designed with specific objectives in mind, PDCA is broad and can be applied to a wide range of situations, both large and small. Its simplicity also makes it easy to understand and use even for those who have limited experience or resources available.

The PDCA cycle also offers an effective scientific approach developed over decades. It relies on structured data collection, analysis, and evaluation as well as applying experimental techniques that allow for experimentation and learning from mistakes as needed.

In addition to being relatively straightforward, the PDCA cycle is systematic in its approach – providing structure while simultaneously encouraging creativity. This helps leverage knowledge concerning an organization’s mission or values while offering tangible solutions to increase efficiency or improve customer service processes.

Finally, the use of this method can help ensure that processes are consistently analyzed which creates greater transparency into the workings of an organization which ultimately leads to better decision making when faced with change or new challenges that arise over time.

Disadvantages of PDCA Cycle

Though the PDCA Cycle— also referred to as the Shewhart Cycle, Deming Cycle, or PDSA Cycle—is a widely-used lean method for continuous improvement, it is not without its drawbacks. Primarily, it suffers from not being able to accommodate rapid transformation of processes and procedures, given the method’s reliance on steady progress and small iterations.

Additionally, there is the risk that employees become unfamiliar with the cycle due to lack of use. Over time they may forget how to apply or even understand it in its entirety. This can lead to misapplication of techniques or constructs out of context, creating discord rather than improvements.

The structure also means that benchmarking and comparison between different companies within an industry is difficult. While this may work within an organization where everyone has access to the same metrics and data points for comparisons, externally sourced figures may vary across different business units and incentives for better performance can be limited.

Finally, implementing PDCA requires relative consistency across all production lines in order for successful implementation. If multiple versions of a product are under development at any given moment—as embodied in the agile methodology of software development—the cyclic nature doesn’t cohere with shorter development times often associated with high-velocity markets and businesses.

Alternatives to PDCA Cycle

The PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is a widely accepted four-stage cycle for problem solving and continuous improvement. This approach has been the go-to strategy for many organizations in the past, but there are newer, more dynamic ways to continually improve organizational outcomes. Here are some alternatives to the traditional PDCA Cycle:

  1. Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA): This strategy is an extension of the original PDCA cycle and encourages short cycles of experimentation and testing. By establishing a “study” phase before implementing changes, organizations can best ensure success by employing empirical evidence.
  2. Rapid DNA Cycle: Instead of going through four separate stages, the Rapid DNA Cycle emphasizes concise steps with immediate implementation, so you can start seeing results quickly. Organizations that adopt this cyclic process move quickly through differences in opinion and decision making in order to produce results at a faster rate.
  3. Lean Six Sigma: The Lean Six Sigma approach combines methods from Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing into one powerful system that focuses on increasing quality while reducing costs/waste through data analysis, risk management and customer feedback. It helps firms gain better customer satisfaction ratings by identifying problems faster and building processes around solutions that eliminate waste and aim for excellence in overall performance management.
  4. Kaizen: Kaizen is a business process change methodology focused on small adjustments over time—now popularized as “continuous improvement” or “process optimization”—rather than major transformations or initiatives that require large investments of time or resources at any one time across an organization’s systems or operations. This method embraces the idea that small changes over time lead to lasting improvement in overall processes if properly monitored and executed correctly by personnel authorized by specific roles within an organization’s partnership group structure framework(s).

Impact of Technology on PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a quality management tool used by organizations to continually improve how they produce and deliver products and services. It was originally introduced by W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s and has since been adopted by many industries as a useful way to manage quality processes.

In recent years, however, technology advancements have had an impact on the use of the PDCA cycle. As new technologies are developed, such as intelligent automation or artificial intelligence (AI), the need to follow a strict cycle of planning and executing may be unnecessary or overshadowed by other digital solutions, making it obsolete for some companies.

The emergence of digital technology has changed the way businesses operate and created more opportunities for organizations to become more efficient in their processes. With AI, for example, it’s possible to quickly spot issues, predict future outcomes and make real-time adjustments based on data; these digital capabilities can make the PDCA cycle redundant for certain operations. Organizations can now build digital systems that automatically capture customer feedback from online sources such as social media platforms and use this data to refine customer experiences without having to manually analyze each customer interaction through a PDCA process.

Due to this shift in technology, many organizations are reevaluating their current approach to quality control in order to explore whether traditional methods such as the PDCA cycle are still necessary or if they can be replaced with efficient automated solutions or intelligent technologies like AI that offer greater agility and scalability when responding quickly to customer needs in dynamic markets.


Based on the research, it appears that although some organizations may be embracing new methods – such as Lean Six Sigma and Agile approaches – to achieve continuous improvement and process refinement, the PDCA cycle still provides an effective framework for making improvements.

The PDCA cycle offers a systematic approach to problem-solving which is beneficial when analyzing root causes and testing outcomes in order to ensure successful implementation of solutions. Although it does have its limitations, the iterative, comprehensive nature of the PDCA cycle ensures all possible approaches are evaluated for effectiveness and efficiency before execution.

Therefore, if used appropriately by organizations, we can conclude that the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle should remain a reliable resource for improving processes.


Evidence suggests that the PDCA Cycle has stood the test of time and is still relevant today. Adopting and implementing it is an effective way to systematically improve processes in order to reach desired outcomes. It can help individuals and organizations develop clear objectives, policies, and rules for creativity, communication, collaboration, decision-making, execution planning and evaluation measures.

However, even though the cycle itself is often seen as a timeless method that has withstood the test of time, some claim that improvements such as introducing agile mindset principles can better suit modern needs to stay ahead of the competition in a rapidly changing environment. In order to make sure that you are making best use of the PDCA Cycle and making best use of all available practices within it, several recommendations could be made:

  1. Make sure you are incorporating innovative techniques into your cycle: Try using agile mindset concepts such as scrum meetings, sprints and retrospectives in combination with PDCA; these methods provide an opportunity to break down big problems into smaller chunks for a more rapid approach to problem solving.
  2. Ensure everyone has a shared understanding: Ensure all participants have a clear understanding of their roles in each part of the cycle; if everyone understands how their work fits into long-term goals or strategies it can be easier for them to commit and stay engaged throughout the process.
  3. Increase awareness through training: Provide training adequate enough for all stakeholders involved; if everyone knows what they should be doing or expecting at each step then people will have greater motivation and satisfaction with the process overall.
  4. Use data-driven measurements: Ensure any data collected is accurate through valid methodologies and reliable sources; data-driven analysis will prove invaluable when deciding whether changes being made meet desired goals or not – this gives credibility and clarity when assessing performance improvement initiatives following PDCA cycles.