The PDCA cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act

The PDCA Cycle

How often do you hear the term “PCDA” when it comes to discussing your company’s continuous improvement efforts? Seems like ALL the time, right? But what does it actually mean? Is it still relevant to our business in these global times?; it’s been around since the 80’s.

PDCA is still relevant and the core to our Lean Enterprise implementation. Let’s revise the key features.

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Even before we jump onto the details, as with the cycle itself, we need to take a step back and look at where this fits into the whole implementation phase. We can use this approach for high level policy deployment, to address a quality issue or investigate a nagging problem.

Firstly we need to understand the context of our issue. Dennis refers to this as “grasping the situation”; understanding what outcome we are trying to achieve, what is the current state of things and if there is a gap between the two. It is the gap between where we are and where we want to be that the PDCA cycle addresses.


embedding PDCA thinking into our visual management
This is where we take the overall situation and determine the steps that are needed to get to where we want to be. Dennis also add that it is here that we must define our SMART metrics (simple, measurable, achievable, reasonable & trackable)


Now we get started on our plan and put the steps into place. There may be a mini PDCA cycle with each implementation step; planning what we are going to do, doing it, checking that section and adjusting, before moving onto the next big step. The challenge here is to check each smaller section but not get too caught up in the details when each small piece needs the other sections to be working to achieve our overall plan.


Just because you have put a new system into place doesn’t mean you have finished. We must check that our implementation is effective. This is where our SMART metrics help. Knowing how we will check that our actions have been effective and achieved the desired results is an important part of the process. If we can’t measure the outcome, then how do we know we have done the right thing? Alternatively we may have solved one problem but not the one that needed solving.


Now we compare our checking outcomes against our plan. If we have achieved the desired results, we document and standardise the process. If our plan hasn’t been achieved, we repeat the process. Investigate what didn’t work, create a new plan, implement and check how it went this time.

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Now take a few minutes to reflect on your current improvement activities; which phase is each project up to? Where does your process get stuck? Do you need to do more planning? Or is it the doing that gets your team caught up? How robust is your checking process? Is there anyone still there to review and adjust; or have they all moved on to other projects?

Improving your improvement processes will stand you and your company in good stead for the challenging times ahead!

Reference Text “Getting the Right Things Done – a leader’s guide to planning and execution” by Pascal Dennis

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions