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What is the PDCA Cycle? Definition, Examples, and Benefits

What is PDCA Cycle

“Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer.”

These profound words by basketball coach Rick Pitino resonate deeply with enterprises committed to exceeding the promised quality. To stay ahead, enterprises must avoid complacency and continuously strive to enhance their processes.

One widely adopted methodology for achieving this continuous improvement is PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Numerous enterprises have leveraged PDCA to improve product quality and boost financial performance.

Therefore, a thorough understanding of PDCA is essential for anyone aspiring to excel in quality management. In this article, we will explore the basics of PDCA – its definition, evolution, examples, and benefits. You will gain insights into when and how to apply PDCA in practice. By the end of this article, you will also discover how comprehensive Six Sigma training can empower you to design and implement PDCA effectively, maximizing your organizational outcomes.

Defining the PDCA Cycle

The PDAC cycle, or the Plan-DO-Check-Act cycle, is a methodology for continuous process improvement. The focus of the PDCA cycle is to identify inefficiencies and work on defining the pathway to resolve and improve them. The motive of the PDCA cycle is to inculcate an environment of questioning the process and troubleshooting.

PDCA consists of four steps. The first step is ‘Plan’. In this step, you determine the need for implementing PDCA, assess the requirements, establish the motives, and plan the tests.

The second step, ‘Do,’ consists of conducting the tests and analyzing the results. The results are used to determine the changes required and implement the modifications.

In the third step, named ‘Check,’ you review the analysis and monitor the effect of the corrective actions.

In the last step, ‘Act,’ you assess whether the corrective actions have worked. If the actions have worked, they can be integrated with the process. If the actions have not worked, you return to the first step, ‘Plan,’ identify why the actions did not work, and follow the cycle again.

Also Read: Six Sigma Green Belt Exam Tips

PDCA Cycle Examples

PDCA is best understood through examples. Let’s explore a few hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how the PDCA cycle can be effectively applied.

Example 1.

A cosmetics company receives numerous customer complaints that their lipsticks melt in temperatures exceeding 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. The company has decided to implement the PDCA cycle to address this issue. They identify the process from chemical processing to packaging and devise corrective actions for each stage. They plan multiple tests to assess each aspect of the process and incorporate the corrective actions.

Data such as melting temperature, chemical composition of the lipstick, manufacturing parameters, and insulation characteristics of the packaging material are collected and evaluated. Successful corrective actions are then permanently integrated into the production process.

Example 2.

An accounting firm that has been in operation for over 50 years primarily relies on telephone communication with clients. However, with a growing client base, reaching out to each client for income tax return reminders becomes challenging. To tackle this issue, the firm applies the PDCA cycle.

The firm decides to send bulk emails using software in the first iteration. They plan and compile a list of clients, select suitable software for email distribution, and gather feedback on email receipts. However, this reveals a new challenge—many clients have not provided their current email addresses. In response, the firm initiates another iteration of the PDCA cycle. They contact these clients to obtain the correct email addresses and update their lists accordingly. Ultimately, the PDCA cycle enables the firm to compile all client email addresses, facilitating efficient communication using bulk email software.

Real-World Examples

Now, let’s look at some examples that show how effective the PDCA cycle has been for several industry leaders.


Nike recognized the need to enhance work conditions across its facilities, from manufacturing to retail outlets. Employing the PDCA cycle, Nike identified areas for improvement and developed corrective actions. They planned and implemented initiatives, such as incentivizing factories and implementing a scoring system.

Post-implementation, they evaluated the effectiveness of these actions and observed a reduction in waste and improved work conditions. Moreover, employees became more aware of the value of suitable work conditions and actively contributed to their enhancement.


NASA utilized the PDCA cycle for its Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, which involved designing, constructing, and operating two rovers on Mars. The PDCA cycle was instrumental in continuously improving the design and operation of the rovers. Any encountered errors were subjected to the PDCA cycle, with plans drafted to identify potential causes and develop corrective actions. The effectiveness of these actions was assessed after implementation, leading to refined operations and enhanced mission success.

Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic, a non-profit hospital, sought to evaluate and reduce patient waiting times. Leveraging PDCA and Kaizen methodologies, Mayo Clinic identified areas for improvement in treatment quality, waiting times, and patient record management. The PDCA cycle helped pinpoint the root causes of issues and develop easily implementable corrective actions. This approach significantly reduced inventory levels and decreased candidacy testing times by approximately 31%.

Also Read: Exploring Lean Process Improvement in Six Sigma

A Brief History and Importance of the PDCA Model

The PDCA model has its roots in the Shewart cycle, developed in 1939 by the American physicist and statistician Walter Shewhart, who is deemed the father of PDCA. The Shewhart cycle consisted of three phases: Specify, Produce, and Inspect. He based these phases on a solid foundation of quality improvement and statistical analysis.

In 1950, William Demming added another step to the Shewhart cycle. This new cycle comprises four steps: Design, Make, Sell, and Test. This development aimed to include a step that assesses the market response to the product and gets feedback regarding the product’s performance. This cycle was also called the PDSA cycle or the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle.

In 1951, he presented this model to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). The members of this organization worked on the concept further and reformed the cycle to the currently popular PDCA cycle. It was integrated into the Toyota Production system.

PDCA has assumed prime importance in Lean management in the current quality management scenario. It helps set up a loop of continuous feedback and improvement by allowing personnel to identify and solve issues incrementally. Companies using the PDCA cycle can carve out a niche in the market.

How Does the PDCA Cycle Work

PDCA cycle works to its maximum capacity when you follow certain steps. Here’s a quick list for you to follow.

  1. Assess if the PDCA cycle is suitable for your project. Your project must not be so trivial that it does not need a PDCA cycle. It must also not be so large that you cannot finish it even after several PDCA cycles that extend beyond your deadlines. Check that there is enough data to justify using the PDCA cycle. Ensure you can efficiently divide your project into the four stages of PDCA.
  2. Well begun is half done. Planning the project sufficiently is crucial to avoid wasting time and resources. Make a note of the chief parameters you wish to test and the metrics that will indicate the efficacy of the PDCA cycle. Establish the benchmarks for the corrective actions. Plan the tests and the timelines for each test. Finalize the team members and allocate tasks and responsibilities. Provide clear guidelines for measurement, data collection, and documentation.
  3. Perform the tests on the process, starting from a small scale. If you begin the tests on multiple equipment or parameters simultaneously, it may become difficult to discern the cause of errors. Hence, the tests will be conducted on a trial basis and then expanded by adding the parameters individually. Ensure that the data is collected appropriately.
  4. Analyze the data to arrive at the metrics. Compare the metrics to the previously established benchmarks. Note the discrepancies or effectiveness of the PDCA cycle. Evaluate the tests and the process for reasons why the test did or did not work.
  5. Use the analysis to decide on further actions. If the corrective actions worked, incorporate them into the process. Design a method for adopting the actions and set up monitoring methods to check their efficiency in the long term. If they do not work, revisit the planning stage, rework the actions, and follow the steps again.

A well-curated Six Sigma program will provide you with all the skills necessary for successfully implementing the PDCA cycle.

The Benefits of the PDCA Cycle

The PDCA cycle is a hugely popular method that has benefitted several organizations worldwide. Here are some of its benefits.

  • The PDCA cycle focuses on detecting and eliminating errors individually rather than working on the entire process and solving all the issues in one modification
  • It improves the efficiency of the process and minimizes the waste
  • It helps frame a lucid and manageable standard operating procedure
  • You get a better perspective of the process parameters and flaws
  • PDCA provides sufficient scope to revisit and redo the corrective actions without any restrictions on the number of iterations
  • It is a simple method that can be implemented by every team member
  • It helps the personnel imbibe a habit of flaw detection, improving the process, and critical thinking
  • You can separate the different aspects of a process and analyze each part to gain maximum knowledge about the errors to be corrected
  • A work culture of collaboration and continuous improvement is developed
  • PDCA enables efficient data gathering to make efficient data-driven decisions

Also Read: Lean Thinking: Transforming Efficiency in Your Business

When to Use the PDCA Cycle?

To gain the maximum benefit of the PDCA cycle, you must select the project and the time of application after substantial deliberation. Applying the PDCA cycle for a minor error, a project with a massive scope, or within short timelines may prove counterproductive. Here’s how you can decide when it is suitable to use the PDCA cycle:

  • You can adopt the PDCA cycle when assessing the suitability of the corrective actions and integrating them into existing processes
  • You can use it to evaluate the development or improvement of a product or service design
  • The PDCA cycle can be used when your focus is on collecting data about the process and the effect of the flaws on the process
  • You can implement PDCA as a part of continuous improvement policies
  • PDCA is tremendously useful when detecting and organizing a repetitive process
  • You can implement the PDCA cycle when you have encountered several problems and wish to prioritize them per their criticality

Explore PDCA and Other Six Sigma Fundamentals

PDCA is a comprehensive technique for evaluating, modifying, and optimizing processes. Its successful implementation depends on selecting the correct project, efficient planning, and proper execution. For this, you must be conversant with the various approaches and tools to help you with each step of PDCA.

A well-structured Six Sigma bootcamp is the best way to gain this knowledge. With these IASCC-aligned courses, you will build a solid foundation in key concepts such as lean management, DMAIC, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belts, and agile management.

Industry leaders with years of experience will train you in key tools such as Minitab® and Jira. With industry-relevant Capstone projects under your belt, you will be on your way to a stellar career in Six quality management.

You might also like to read:

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Six Sigma Implementation Strategies [2024 Guide]

Exploring Six Sigma and Total Quality Management: Differences, Similarities, and Qualifications

Best Green Belt Projects: Examples, Tips, and Best Practices

Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification: Requirements and Advantages

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