The PDCA Cycle What You Need to Know


Introduction to PDCA

The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming cycle or the Shewhart cycle, is a four step process for continuous improvement. This process was originally developed by Walter Shewhart and popularized by W. Edwards Deming.

The PDCA cycle is used to ensure that an organization’s processes are effective, reliable, and of the highest quality. Let’s explore the four steps of the PDCA cycle in detail:

Overview of the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a four-step management tool used by businesses to identify problems, analyze root causes, assist with decision making, and test solutions. It enables organizations to become more efficient and scientific in their problem solving and can be used for both small and large projects.

  • Plan – The first step of the PDCA cycle involves developing a plan based on data. This involves identifying the current state of the problem, researching potential solutions, and determining an actionable course of action.
  • Do – When the course of action has been determined the second step, ‘Do’, is enacted. This stage involves implementing changes based upon the plan created during the first phase. During this stage it is vital that all activities are closely monitored so that any required improvements can be quickly identified and addressed if necessary.
  • Check – After enacting changes it is important to accurately assess their effectiveness through data collection and analysis to determine whether successes or failings are observed from the implemented changes or improvements in comparison to pre-defined targets or objectives.
  • Act – Based on findings from the ‘check’ phase appropriate actions must be taken in order to improve operations which lead directly back into initiating another PDCA cycle for continuous improvement throughout organizational operations.

Benefits of Using the PDCA Cycle

The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle, is an iterative quality improvement methodology that has stood the test of time and is still widely used today in industries for continuous improvement processes. The PDCA cycle stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act and involves a four-step process for constant learning and improvement within a business or project. By leveraging the PDCA cycle, companies are able to identify weak points early on in order to take corrective actions before they become major issues. This approach helps organizations increase efficiency, reduce costs and deliver more value to their customers.

The four steps of the PDCA cycle each have their own objectives. At the planning phase, teams outline strategies that they will be using and set goals so they can measure progress in order to stay on track. During the doing phase, teams work towards implementing strategies defined during the planning phase while continuing to spot and identify new opportunities for improvement. Check is an evaluation stage where conclusions are drawn after analyzing collected data. Finally at act stage, changes made during check stage are tested before fully committing to them long-term or adapting them into policies or processes going forward.

Overall, using a PDCA cycle gives teams an initial structure where they can create actionable plans in order to achieve desired outcomes as well as modify existing processes with continual feedback from employees and customers alike; resulting in improved operations overall due to continual adjustments being made each round of the iteration.

The Four Steps of PDCA

The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming or Shewhart cycle, is a four-step process developed by W. Edwards Deming and Walter Shewhart in the 1950s. It is an iterative cycle of continuous improvement that can be used to aid decision making and problem-solving events.

In this article, we’ll explore each of the four steps in the PDCA cycle:

  • Plan
  • Do
  • Check
  • Act


The first step in the PDCA cycle is “Plan”. Or, as often expressed in business, “Plan – Do – Check – Act.” This is the planning phase where you identify problems and possible solutions. Planning should include researching and understanding previous successes and failures in addition to opportunities available within the current state of your process. Experimenting during this step may also be helpful to test hypotheses on how to improve any parts of the process (e.g., materials, methods, labor, etc.).

When planning for improvements, consider gathering input from stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, vendors and company leaders. Brainstorming with varied groups can help uncover new solutions that may have been missed due to tunnel vision or a lack of expertise in certain areas. Once a problem has been identified and potential solutions discussed, it’s important to select specific actions from which tangible plans can be developed for implementation later on down the PDCA cycle.

Additionally, it’s important that execution plans are recorded for quick reference so details are not forgotten about as tasks are completed throughout the cycle:

  • Select specific actions from which tangible plans can be developed.
  • Record execution plans for quick reference.


The final step of PDCA is the ‘do’ phase, in which the changes designed in the plan stage are put into action. The goal of this step is to ensure implementation of the proposed changes proceeds smoothly and efficiently. This stage involves monitoring progress, keeping track of KPIs, gathering feedback from stakeholders or collected data to assess impact. It’s also important to identify any changes that may be needed during this phase in order to adjust and improve as you go along.

Once a plan has been actioned and monitored, it’s time to assess how successful it was at addressing the problem being solved – which brings us back to the start of the cycle: check. By performing regular reviews, you are able to use key performance indicators (KPIs) or feedback from your stakeholders/customers to gauge whether your solution made a difference or not. If it was successful then great – keep doing what you’re doing! If not, then you can use your assessment results and go back through another iteration of PDCA – plan, do and check again!


The fourth and final step of the PDCA cycle is Check. This step involves evaluating and analyzing the results achieved from the plan in order to assess whether it succeeded in meeting its objectives and achieving the desired outcomes. When reviewing the results, it can be beneficial to document any issues and problems that arise so they can be addressed later. Additionally, many organizations utilize quality control tools such as Statistical Process Control (SPC) or Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) to conduct more detailed analyses.

Once a thorough review of the results is complete, a decision must be made on whether to continue with a revised version of the plan or move on to another cycle. If changes are necessary, then new capacities or indicators may need to be put in place so that progress can continue to be monitored effectively.


The fourth and final step of the PDCA cycle is Act. Once the team has come up with an improvement plan, they will move on to the implementation phase of the process. At this stage, early results should start to be assessed so that any changes that need to be made are identified quickly and the necessary improvements can be implemented. Additionally, lessons learned should be documented in order to use it in future implementations.

The key elements of the Act phase are:

  • Implementing and testing the solution
  • Measuring results quickly
  • Adjusting project parameters based on data collected
  • Continuing adjustment until desired results are achieved
  • Documenting steps taken and lessons learned

Implementing PDCA

The PDCA cycle is a critical tool for organizational improvement since it provides a reliable cycle of steps that can be followed to ensure quality outcomes. The cycle starts with Plan (or Prepare), which is the first step in the cycle and involves analyzing the situation and determining what needs to be done. This is followed by Do, where the actual work is done. The third step, Check, requires assessing whether the plan and the outcome meet the desired standards. Finally, the cycle concludes with Action, where changes and adjustments are made based on the results from the Check step.

Implementing PDCA can help organizations achieve better outcomes and maintain higher quality standards.

Identifying Problems

Accurately identifying problems is a critical step in the PDCA cycle. To identify problems and understand the various challenges, it’s important to observe and ask questions. Once issues are identified, they should be fully understood from all sides with stakeholders in consideration before any decisions are made.

It’s also important to consider the different points of view that may be present and account for any biases that may exist. Common sources for problem identification can include customer complaints, employee feedback on operational issues, sales discrepancies, financial reports and business analysis results. This can help you gain a clearer understanding of where improvement is needed.

The final step of problem identification is defining what success looks like and establishing objectives related to those goals. When measuring success it’s important to consider timelines for completion as well as any resources that may be necessary for implementation. Once objectives have been established, data should be collected on the current performance levels to create a basis for assessment in relation to future successes or failures. With both processes established, lasting improvement can begin as part of the PDCA cycle.

Setting Goals

When implementing PDCA, it is important to establish goals for desired improvement. When choosing the areas in your organization that could benefit from the systematic approach of PDCA, it is best to start small and focus on one area before trying to implement it throughout your entire organization.

Outline what you plan to accomplish in each cycle and list the results you want after each step. Set measurable and achievable goals that track different aspects of your process. Once these goals are set, employee buy-in must be established so that everyone understands the role they play in meeting the goal.

Encourage cross-functional collaboration, teamwork, communication and information sharing while ensuring everyone has clear expectations of their own performance and contribution. Lastly, ensure everyone is motivated by the goal and will take ownership of them moving forward into each successive cycle.

Collecting Data

When following the PDCA Cycle, it is important to remember to collect data at each stage. The data can help you understand how processes are performed, if objectives have been met and what changes are needed, among other things. Collecting the data helps equip you with knowledge that informs any decision you make.

Data should be collected both before and after each cycle of PDCA is implemented. Before implementation, baseline metrics should be established as a reference point for understanding how much progress has been made once the cycle has run its course. After implementation, collecting comparative data allows for an evaluation phase which can further inform further cycles of improvement or further implementation of solutions found successful within previous cycles. As such, collecting data should not be seen as an afterthought in the PDCA Cycle, but rather integral in quantifying successes and sizing up new challenges faced during each PDCA cycle.

The types of data collected will vary based on the problem under investigation. Particularly when improvements to processes or services are sought-after it is important to collect qualitative data such as customer feedback survey responses along with quantitative metrics like service time metric averages or user satisfaction scores. Collecting this information in full will provide teams a comprehensive picture of process performance against desired outcomes and deliverables over time – supplying valuable insight when determining whether specific organizational objectives have been achieved or not achieved through a current process iteration or modification to existing procedures along with informing any subsequent actions–continuing development efforts towards desired goals or beginning another cycle of PDCA for improved solutions per process performance issues identified priorly with more defined performance criteria than before shaped from collected metrics from original baseline measure and usage over course of one’s progression through PDCA stages.

Analyzing Data

The fourth step in the PDCA cycle is Analyze Data. Proper analysis of your data allows you to determine whether you have achieved your desired goal or not. It also provides valuable insight into how your processes are running and their general effectiveness.

Data analysis includes reviewing current performance, trends, and possible sources of variability. It may involve developing key performance indicators (KPIs), which help to further track how processes are performing over a period of time. That being said, it’s important to use correct data points when establishing these KPIs so you can accurately gauge progress and understand what needs to be improved upon further.

Once initial data is collected, root cause analysis is used to identify the core elements that can lead to process variance and its improvement opportunities. It’s also important to use data visualizations such as bar charts, line graphs or histograms – as this helps to easily understand trends by giving a qualitative snapshot of varying situations across different processes over time. These visuals are extremely helpful when working with other teams within an organization and when staying on top of any changes that need to be implemented quickly or on major customer requirements. Additionally, process capability studies may be generated by comparing pre-defined upper & lower limits with the actual process results – providing valuable input on where & how to make far reaching improvements as needed.

Best Practices for PDCA

The PDCA cycle is an essential tool for continuous improvement. It allows for a systematic and structured approach for monitoring, evaluating and improving various processes within a business.

This section will cover best practices for implementing the PDCA model so that you can maximize its effectiveness and maximize your return on investment:

Establish a Systematic Process

When using the PDCA cycle, it is important to have an organized and systematic process. A systematic approach allows an organization to have control over what activities are being done and when they are being completed. It also increases the efficiency of work and enables an organization to stay on track while reducing risks associated with making decisions without clear direction or protocols.

The following steps should be included in the establishment of a systematic PDCA process:

  1. Outline Your Team’s Goal – Establish a common goal among all team members that will provide focus for each process improvement cycle. It is important to define the objective clearly in order for everyone to effectively plan and set that as the desired result from their efforts.
  2. Identify Your Processes – List out every step of your current process, evaluate how these processes are being implemented, and decide which ones need improvement or change. Note any instances of waste or redundancies that may be occurring—these can lead to further improvements down the line.
  3. Break Each Process Down – Once you have identified what processes need improvement, divide each one into smaller, manageable tasks with specific objectives. This makes it easier for team members to focus on implementing specific solutions in their cycle without becoming overwhelmed by large-scale changes.
  4. Assign Responsibilities – Determine who is in charge of each part of the process and assign them as delegates so they can take initiative in ensuring changes become implemented properly. Ensuring each member is given clear expectations ensures better success throughout the PDCA cycle.

Define Clear Objectives

The PDCA cycle is an iterative quality management system often used to improve manufacturing processes, products, and services. It is also referred to as the Deming Cycle or a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) loop. The PDCA cycle encourages teams and organizations to identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes with iterative planning cycles. Compared to traditional methods of improvement that may take longer and require more resources, the PDCA cycle helps organizations take improvement initiatives in shorter time frames with lower costs.

In order for the PDCA cycle to be effective, it is essential that clear objectives are first defined before beginning the process. Objectives should describe what you are trying to accomplish and set benchmarks for measuring results. By defining clear objectives during the planning stage, you will have a guideline to measure performance against throughout the rest of the PDCA cycle. This allows you to:

  • Identify any weaknesses
  • Recognize areas where there may be success
  • Take corrective action accordingly

Additionally, this will help ensure everyone involved in the project understands what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and why it needs be done in order for successful outcomes within each step of the process.

Monitor and Measure Progress

Maintaining quality throughout the PDCA cycle is essential for any organization. Real-time monitoring and regular measurement of processes and products helps detect defects, reduce costs, and improve product quality over time. Monitoring team performance and results allows you to identify potential problems early on before they become larger issues. Regular measurement of key performance metrics (KPIs) helps organizations track results and make modifications as needed to achieve desired outcomes.

In this step of the PDCA cycle, it’s important to establish a precise set of metrics that will allow you to measure progress accurately so that corrective actions can be taken when deviations are found. Such metrics may include:

  • customer feedback
  • sales numbers
  • process efficiency
  • customer satisfaction surveys or customer loyalty scores
  • among others.

It is also important to ensure the accuracy of measurements and data by establishing procedures for data collection, processing and validation.

Finally, changes in current production systems or processes should not be made until it is apparent that there are clear benefits from the alterations actually taking place; thus making sure that resources are well spent in order to maximize return on investment (ROI). Monitoring and measuring how changes affect customer satisfaction levels may also be beneficial for understanding how customers respond to new products and services so that customers can receive better quality output from your organization’s operations or processes.

Use a Collaborative Approach

Using a collaborative approach when implementing the PDCA cycle is an important best practice for ensuring successful outcomes and meaningful improvement. By bringing together different disciplines, the most effective solutions become available to identify and address problems. Building a team focused on problem solving by combining strengths from various perspectives rather than relying solely on past experiences can greatly increase the scope of available solutions and help to create more productive results.

For example, when creating feedback mechanisms, it’s important that different departments or areas are included in the process. For instance, senior management sets strategy and goals for an organization but do not necessarily observe implementation at lower levels. This can be addressed by including representatives from several departments which will provide a clearer view of how operations are functioning on the ground. Other roles, such as business consultants or external auditors, may also be invited so they can provide their insights regarding necessary changes or needed adjustments. Allowing new perspectives to shape problem solving will develop comprehensive solutions that can then be used in this cycle.


The PDCA cycle is a powerful framework for continuous improvement, helping organisations to identify weaknesses and improve their performance. By using the PDCA cycle correctly, businesses and teams can identify areas of improvement and apply solutions in order to continuously improve their results.

This article has looked at the different elements of the PDCA cycle, as well as the benefits of using it within your organisation.

Summary of the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle is a continuous quality improvement process used by organizations and businesses around the world. This cyclical approach helps to ensure that an organization is constantly evaluating and improving procedures and processes, with customer satisfaction as the ultimate goal.

The four stages of the PDCA Cycle are:

  1. Plan – involves setting goals, creating a plan of action to meet those goals, and implementing the plan.
  2. Do – actions are taken to carry out the plan created in the previous step.
  3. Check – evaluate the actions to ensure they are meeting desired objectives.
  4. Act – based on the evaluations, improvements are recommended or put into action.

By following this cyclical approach to quality management, organizations can identify areas for improvement which can then be addressed quickly to maintain desired customer satisfaction levels.

Key Takeaways

The PDCA Cycle is a process commonly used by organizations to continually improve their performance. It comprises four steps: plan, do, check and act.

  • Planning involves deciding what you are trying to accomplish, formulating a strategy and putting controls in place.
  • Doing is the execution stage, where you roll out your planned strategy and test it in the real world.
  • Checking means validating whether or not the strategy worked as expected; this stage includes data collection, analysis and reporting of outcomes.
  • Acting is when improvements are made and new plans are formulated—completing the cycle anew.

Ultimately, the PDCA Cycle helps organizations focus on continuous improvement by creating an ongoing cycle of proactive learning from mistakes and successes alike. As part of good program management practices, successful organizations actively use this four-step approach for developing products and services that meet customer needs and organizational objectives—now and into the future.