PDCA: Continually Improving Processes

5 Min Read
PDCA: Continually Improving Processes

PDCA, Deming cycle, Shewhart cycle, PDSA are just a few names used to explain this management method to help control and aid continuous improvement of business processes.

What is PDCA?

Plan. Do. Check. Act. 

As human beings, we like to split concepts and ideas into easier, more manageable chunks. This is exactly what this catchy phrase does – it’s an acronym for a four-step cycle that facilitates continuous improvement within your business.

Central to Lean methodology manufacturing and Toyota Lean manufacturing.

PDCA was created by W. Edwards Deming, who was core to the evolution of quality control; however, he often referred to it as the “Shewhart cycle” after Walter A. Shewhart.

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Follow this cycle and you’re guaranteed to improve?

Eventually, yes. But unlike your standard magic trick, the results are not instantaneous. Being a cyclic process, the idea is that the business process is repeated over and over again and is a great way to work with Kaizen. However, it is important to make sure you do each stage with clarity and precision to obtain the best results.

We’ll look into the four stages in more detail below, but first, we’ll explain where PDCA originated, and how it became a trusted concept within the world of process improvement for businesses.

PDCA is an offshoot of ‘Deming’s Theory,’ which is otherwise known as PDSA. There is a common misconception that they are two of the same – this isn’t true. Both originated in the 50s, but PDCA was developed in Japan, whereas PDSA was developed by Dr. William Edwards Deming. Swapping the word ‘check’ for ‘study’ may seem like a very subtle difference, however, the word dictates how you interpret your results and there-so your entire process. We will go into more detail about this later.

And just when you thought there weren’t enough variations, you can also swap the word ‘act’ for ‘adjust.’ However, in this instance, despite the word change – the process still equates to the same as using the word ‘act.’ Confusing, right?

Stages of PDCA


‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

First things first, you need your plan! This will involve the identification of areas of opportunity and where the problems lie. This could be with either your product or your process.  

This may be the hardest part of PDCA. It can take brutal honesty across the organisation, and choosing where to start can be a daunting task.  Like we said before, human beings like to split information into chunks. How about using an affinity diagram to help you?

Take this example. A white goods company found that their lead times were too lengthy – it was taking up to 7 days from order to delivery and installation. There could be a number of possible reasons for this 

  • There is a delay with ordering from the manufacturer, or the delays are with the manufacturers themselves 
  • The tools needed to install the white goods are not available for the staff
  • There aren’t enough staff members available to complete the work efficiently  

It could mean a lot of initial research, but it is a necessary step to ensure success for your business.


Now, this is where the cycle springs into action! After all of the planning, it’s time to test your proposed solution. Have you decided to change supplier? Or have you taken on an extra pair of hands? 

Test your solution using a small-scale project before rolling out the changes to the entire workforce. You could isolate the changes to team or demographic, this will result in a minimal amount of disruption to your business.


Once you’ve rolled out the test run – it’s time to find out if your solution appears to be making a difference!

If it looks like your plan worked – great! If not – don’t be disheartened, there may just be minor changes you need to make in order to see results. Maybe further improvements or eliminations need to be made – but it will be your results that dictate this. 

Remember to refer back to the expected results you prepared in the planning stages. These will be good indicators to judge your results. 


You then move on to this step if you are satisfied with the check stage. Did you see the improvements you wanted? If so – it’s time to roll your improvement processes out to the wider team and business. 

If it was less successful, then hop on back to the ‘plan’ stage. This doesn’t mean failure – far from it – you just go back and try again. 


Going back to ‘Deming’s theory’ – otherwise known as PDSA or ‘The Shewhart Cycle for Learning and Improvement” – we’ll look at some of the noted differences.

The primary modification is in the level of detail when analysing results. Neither is better than the other – it depends entirely on what you want to achieve from your testing. 

  • the ‘studyers’ analyse results more intricately, asking the question ‘what can we learn from the comparison between reality and what we were expecting?’ 
  • whereas the ‘checkers’ study their results against a baseline of results, rather than asking the more complex questions.

An example of when you may use PDSA instead of PDCA is to test a new app for your business, as you would want to analyse feedback and results much more thoroughly.

Although it’s a subtle difference, being a cyclic process, the way you choose to analyse your results does affect all of the other stages too.

Should I consider PDCA for my business?

PDCA has both advantages and disadvantages for your business. It is highly dependent upon your requirements whether or not this method would be suitable for you.


Highly versatile

There are several potential uses of PDCA within the business environment, which include product development, resource management, and project management. It will fit with almost any organisation type or size.

Simple but powerful  

PDCA is a relatively simple method for employees to get their heads around, but it is an immensely useful tool for driving meaningful change within organisations.  


Difficult to implement in urgent projects

This may seem to contradict the previous advantage, but although the concept is simple, the implementation can be complex. Steps can take a long time and so for the more urgent projects, it probably isn’t the best solution. 

Requires commitment

Like we said at the beginning, this is not a simple trickery (life would be boring if so!), therefore for success, you’ll need to commit. This means continuity and buy-in from the top down. Without this, the process ultimately becomes obsolete. 

Here at Checkify, we are committed to helping you to maximise efficiency and minimise errors by using methods like PDCA as a basis for continuous process improvement. It could just take a slight change to your standard operating process or a rewiring of your business process management – but it’s up to you to take the steps to find out! 

 If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your business to be more consistent, drop us a line 

We’d love to hear from you! 

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