What is a Deming Cycle?

The Deming Cycle (or Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)) is a four-step iterative technique used to solve problems and improve organizational processes. Dr. Walter A. Shewhart, the renowned physicist and statistician from Western Electric and Bell Labs, developed the original concept during the 1920s. His approach was a three-step linear problem-solving method. 

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the famous quality-control pioneer and author of Deming’s 14 Points, popularized the technique in the 1950s and took Shewhart’s linear three-step process and revised it to be the iterative four-step circle and cycle we know today. This then became known as the Deming Cycle. 

So, what is PDCA and the Deming Cycle?

  • Plan: In this step, you investigate the current situation in order to fully understand the nature of the problem being solved.​ Be sure that you develop a plan and a framework to work from, and specify the desired outcomes and results.
  • Do: To identify the real problem by analyzing the data and defining and implementing a solution plan. The PDCA cycle focuses on smaller, incremental changes that help improve processes with minimal disruption. You should start with a small-scale pilot so as not to disrupt the organization should the solution not work as expected.
  • Check: To monitor the effect of the implementation plan and find countermeasures if necessary to further improve the solution. You should do a check during implementation to make sure that the project’s objectives are being met. Do a second check upon completion to allow for successes and failures to be addressed, and for future adjustments to be made based on lessons learned.
  • Act: Implement your solutions and recommendations. Decide if the solution is effective, and either integrate it into standard work practices or abandon it. If you abandon it, you should ask what you’ve learned from the process and restart the cycle.

Deming Cycle: 3 Benefits

PDCA is used by many companies because it has many benefits. Some of them are:

  1. Encourages continuous improvement. The fact that the PDCA cycle is iterative encourages users to pursue continuous improvement. It is important that leadership commits to the Deming Cycle because it is not an event.
  2. FlexibilityThe Deming cycle can be applied to a variety of organizational processes, regardless of their function.
  3. Easy to understand, but powerful: The concept and steps are simple. The tools required are simple. The PDCA process can be a powerful tool for an organization.

Why is it important to understand the Deming Cycle?

It is important to not only understand the Deming Cycle but also to implement and deploy it in an organization.

  1. All processes can be made better. PDCA can be a useful tool to start the journey towards continuous improvement.
  2. The Deming Cycle has been well-documented and is a proven methodology. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch when an effective solution exists.
  3. This method allows for quick changes and the implementation of solutions in a timely manner so that your company can start seeing benefits immediately.