PDCA is a cycle of improvement based on a scientific method. It involves proposing a new process, implementing it, measuring its results, and then taking the appropriate actions. The Deming Cycle and Deming Wheel are also known after W. Edwards Deming who introduced the concept to Japan in the 1950s. The acronym PDSA is also used, with the “S” standing for “study”.
The PDCA cycle is divided into four phases:
- Plan – Determine the goals of a particular process and any necessary changes.
- Implement the changes.
- Check the results and evaluate them in terms of performance
- Act — Standardize and stabilize changes or start the cycle over again depending on the results
PDCA is at the core of continuous improvement, or kaizen. Leaders establish targets (plans) based on a baseline performance that is stable. Teams implement improvements to reach the target. They then measure (Check) to compare performance with the target. The team will standardize (Act) a new method if it has made a measurable improvement. The improvement will be stable.
The PDCA Cycle: Four Phases
The PDCA cycle allows you to solve problems and implement solutions in a methodical, rigorous way. We’ll look at each stage in turn.
Identify and understand the problem or opportunity. Maybe the quality of a product or marketing process is not high enough.
Exploring all the available information is essential. Develop and screen ideas and create a solid implementation plan.
Make sure you state your success criteria as clearly as possible. Later, during the Check stage, you’ll revisit them.
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Test your solution in a safe manner with a pilot project. It will allow you to see if your changes are successful, and if not, how they can be implemented without causing major disruptions in your business. You could, for example, organize a test within a specific department, in a certain geographical area, or with a specific demographic.
You can use the data you collect to determine if the changes have worked. This data will be used in the next phase.
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Analyze the results of your pilot project against the criteria you set in Step 1 to determine if your idea was successful.
Return to Step 1. If it was, proceed to Step 4.
You might decide to make more changes and repeat the Do-Check phase. If your plan isn’t working out, you will need to go back to step 1.
4. Act Now
Here you will implement your solution. Remember that PDCA/PDSA does not have a beginning or an end. It is a continuous loop. You can now use your improved product or process as the baseline. However, you will continue to improve it.
History of PDCA
Walter A. Shewhart developed the Shewhart Cycle, a repeated improvement cycle.
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Edward Deming adapted the Shewart Cycle into a four-step pattern for Japanese audiences. The Deming cycle was heavily based on the concepts of product quality, learning by doing, and innovation over the life cycle of a particular product.
The Deming cycle is:
1. Design – The Product with Appropriate Testing
2. Create – The product, and test it both in production and the lab.
3. Promote – The product on the market.
4. Test – The Customer Experience and Redesign for Improvement
In 1951, JUSE (the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers) changed Deming’s framework to the more recognizable PDCA. Although it has been more than 50 years since Deming’s cycle was introduced to Japanese executives, many open-ended approaches continue to seek to repeat the learning cycle as quickly as possible to obtain customer feedback and make improvements in all relevant areas.
Although the language has changed, the fundamental thinking is still unchanged. Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup popularized the three-phase concept: Build; measure; and learn. Iterative cycles are similar to the original Shewhart or Deming cycles. The words may be changed or slightly modified, but the timeless concepts remain the same.