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PDCA Cycle – Mapping Continuous Improvement Activities

What is the PDCA cycle?

The PDCA Cycle is a method for mapping and executing continuous improvement activities. It stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act (Adjust). It is also known as the Deming cycle or the Shewhart cycle. It is a popular problem-solving tool in Total Quality Management.

Similar to the 5 whys, the PDCA is an iterative process. It breaks down process management into four concrete steps. This allows product builders to continuously improve in a methodical way.

Like many lean tools and methodologies, PDCA is also heavily used in the Toyota Production System and originates from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

What does the acronym stand for?

P- Plan

  • First, you must identify and understand your problem or the opportunity
  • Then develop hypotheses about what the problem or the opportunity may be
  • This is where the Five Whys can help. The root cause can be used to build a more concrete hypothesis for how a solution may or may not solve the main problem
  • Decide which hypothesis to test, and quantify or be specific about your expectation
  • identify and analyze the problem or opportunity, develop hypotheses about what the issues may be, and decide which one to test

D- Do

  • Now test your hypothesis with a small-scale project
  • This will reveal whether your solution to the problem will give you the desired outcome or results
  • Understand why it worked or did not work. It is good to have quantifiable data

C- Check

  • Review the results of the study you ran during the ‘Do’ stage
  • Measure its effectiveness and identify what you have learned
    • What worked? What did not work?
    • Did the test achieve desired results?
  • Decide whether the hypothesis can be supported or not
  • Determine whether you need to run another experiment

A- Act (Adjust)

  • If the test proved your hypothesis to be effective, implement your solution
  • Understand that this is a continuous process
  • Look for other ways to improve your product and repeat the PDCA cycle

When to Use the PDCA Cycle

PDCA cycle can be applied to various processes: running a manufacturing plant, a restaurant, project, services, and so much more. It applies to all industries at all types of organizations.

But these are the steps that the PDCA Cycle can help out with:

  • Exploring and understanding the effects of different solutions in a controlled environment
  • Minimizing waste by testing at a small scale before full implementation
  • Testing out different ways of improving a process and finding which one works for the organization (TQM, Six Sigma, 5 Whys, etc.)

However, one must understand that the PDCA cycle requires long-term commitment and resilience. It is an arduous process, and the incremental changes can make the progress feel stunted at times.

It is important to remember that the PDCA Cycle is a continuous process. There is no right or wrong number of times it takes to go through the cycle to come to a conclusion or a solution.

Therefore it is a never-ending cycle that becomes embedded in the way a company or an organization improves on its product, service, or process.