The PDCA cycle is a model for continuous improvement. It consists of four iterative steps: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA). Repeated over and over again, these four steps enable continuous improvement.
PDCA is a deceptively simple concept that is based on the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment, and evaluation. It involves proposing a change in a process, implementing the change, measuring the results, and then taking appropriate action in response. Then begin again: look for an opportunity to make a change in the process.
Plan: You plan in order to develop a shared vision of where you are going and how to get there. Planning begins with identifying a problem: a gap between your current situation and your desired state, based on data. Planning also includes creating a hypothesis about a countermeasure to the problem – a plan for change that you think will deliver the results you seek.
Do: Carry out the plan. Test your hypothesis. Collect data. You will need it later when you check to see what your plan produced.
Check: Study the data and results. What did you learn? Did you get the results you expected? What went according to plan, and what didn’t? Summarize what you learned.
Act: And finally, reflect on your options. If the idea was successful, standardize and implement on a broader scale. If it was not successful, adjust your countermeasures. In either case, be ready to start the cycle again.
PDCA can happen at the macro level, with strategic planning every three to five years. PDCA also happens at the annual level, providing an annual reflection and key learning points.
And PDCA cycles happen at the micro level – maybe even daily – checking the results of a process and acting on small, incremental opportunities for improvement
The biggest obstacles: being unwilling to try plans that aren’t “perfect,” or failing to adjust and improve when we don’t meet our targets or when situations change. But we can overcome that…it will just require some PDCA of our own actions.
(Footnote: “PDCA” has a few variations, all meaning essentially the same thing. Some people use PDSA, where S stands for “Study,” and in some cases people use “Adjust” instead of “Act.” We plan to use “PDCA” for the sake of consistency, but there’s nothing wrong with any of the other variations.)