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Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle: What It Is, Benefits

What is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle?

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle, originating from the 1920s work of American physicist Walter A. Shewhart, stands as a cornerstone in iterative problem-solving techniques for refining business processes. Its evolution into a widely adopted approach owes much to the insights of quality control pioneer Dr. W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s, who dubbed it the “Shewhart Cycle” in honour of his mentor. During World War II, Deming recognised its potential to enhance production processes in the United States.

Key points:

  • The PDCA Cycle, comprising four iterative steps, serves as a robust method for addressing business challenges.
  • Often, managers instinctively employ elements of the PDCA Cycle, mirroring strategic management frameworks.
  • The final stage of the PDCA Cycle, “Act,” prompts corrective actions crucial for perpetuating ongoing business enhancement.
  • This process aligns closely with the Japanese principle of Kaizen, advocating continuous improvement.
  • The implementation of PDCA or Six Sigma methodologies has spurred remarkable growth in numerous major corporations, such as Toyota and Nike.

How the PDCA Cycle Works

The PDCA Cycle serves as a tool that sets a company apart from its competitors, especially in today’s corporate landscape, where businesses continually seek methods to streamline processes, cut costs, boost profits, and enhance customer satisfaction.

Many managers instinctively apply the PDCA Cycle to guide their organisations, as it encompasses the fundamental principles of strategic planning. The four elements of the PDCA Cycle are elaborated upon below.

Plan

A well-defined project plan acts as the backbone of operations, reflecting the organisation’s mission and values while charting the project’s objectives and the most effective approach to achieve them.

Do

This phase initiates the execution of the plan. Given that the plan was devised with intent, executing it as outlined becomes pivotal. This stage encompasses training all involved personnel, executing the work, and documenting insights or data for future assessment.

Check

Typically, two checkpoints occur during the project lifecycle. Initial checks during implementation ensure alignment with project objectives. A more comprehensive review post-completion evaluates successes and failures, informing future adjustments.

Act

The final step involves correcting any identified errors from previous stages. The PDCA Cycle is repeated and may be redefined to yield improved outcomes under new guidelines.

The PDCA Cycle and Kaizen

The PDCA process aligns with the Japanese business ethos of Kaizen, translating to “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” Kaizen involves all staff members in enhancing productivity by identifying efficiencies within the work environment. Similar to the PDCA cycle, Kaizen pursues ongoing advancement through gradual, incremental modifications.

Changes implemented via Kaizen or PDCA encompass adopting new systems, reducing waste, or introducing just-in-time delivery. Not all alterations must be minor or gradual.

At the core of PDCA and Kaizen lies the notion that an organisation’s culture evolves as employees develop problem-solving skills and critical thinking abilities. The PDCA cycle assesses employees’ ideas, refines them, and implements potentially promising ones. This iterative process continually tests concepts and fosters enhancements.

Benefits of the PDCA Cycle

Businesses seeking to improve their internal and external processes frequently adopt the PDCA methodology to reduce errors and optimise results. Once integrated, companies can iterate the PDCA Cycle, incorporating it into their regular operations. The “Act” phase, the culmination of the methodology, involves corrective measures, rendering it conducive to ongoing enhancement endeavours.

Example of PDCA Cycle – Toyota Motor Co

For a good look at PDCA/Kaizen in action, let’s shed light on how it is applied at Toyota Motor Co.

The automaker embodies the ethos of Kaizen as part of The Toyota Way’s Continuous Improvement component alongside Challenge and the Genchi Genbutsu (“go see for yourself”) principle. The latter means for problem-solvers to actually see the problem first-hand and study the root causes and possible effects right then and there for a solution. The objective is to better improve the work process even under a standardised system. Individual employees who found those issues and are studying potential solutions may state their case with the management staff overseeing the production line.

Some observers may claim Toyota’s deep implementation of The Toyota Way and the Toyota Production System have contributed immensely to the automaker’s success. Forbes’ Global 500 for 2023 currently ranks the Three Ovals at No 19 with US$274.5 billion in revenues.   

FAQs

Is PDCA synonymous with Total Quality Management (TQM)?

Total quality management (TQM), a forerunner to Six Sigma, encompasses the PDCA philosophy but takes an additional step forward.

Horizon Group Consulting founder-CEO Marlon Walters claimed the distinction between TQM and Six Sigma is that with TQM, a product can only be judged good if the customers attest to it with reviews. Six Sigma can be based on instincts that the product will be the best fit for its target market.    

Kaizen, or PDCA, focuses more on organising the broader workspace and engaging coworkers, prioritising action over awaiting feedback. Both PDCA and TQM instil a company-wide responsibility for continuous improvement.

What are the distinctions between PDCA and Six Sigma?

Six Sigma embraces PDCA as a component within its comprehensive management approach. PDCA delineates the execution of Six Sigma by firmly embodying the plan, do, act, check process. Within Six Sigma, this aligns with the DMAIC method (define, measure, analyse, improve, and control).

Walters emphasises PDCA’s people-centric nature compared to Six Sigma’s process-oriented approach. For instance, Six Sigma’s “define” phase sidelines human elements, while “measure” accentuates data.

What Is the Difference Between PDCA and PDSA?

PDCA represents plan, do, check, act, whereas PDSA stands for plan, do, study, act. Both are iterative, four-stage problem-solving models aimed at process enhancement. The primary divergence lies in PDCA’s incorporation of a “check” stage, where the team assesses whether intended outcomes align with actual results, making PDCA include a built-in check in each cycle.

Conclusion

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a potent framework for continuous improvement that aligns seamlessly with the principles of the Japanese Kaizen system. It provides a structured approach to problem-solving, data-driven decision-making, and a commitment to incremental enhancements in workflows and processes.

PDCA’s applications span across various industries and functions, making it a versatile tool for organisations striving to improve efficiency, quality, and overall performance. By applying the principles of PDCA, organisations can consistently work towards perfection and remain adaptable in an ever-changing world.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. BARTERCARD has no affiliations with any company mentioned in this article.

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