What is the PDCA Cycle?

PDCA stands for plan, do, check, and either act or adjust. It’s essentially the foundation of continuous improvement. Made popular by W. Edwards Deming, an engineer, statistician, management consultant, and generally considered to be the father of quality control, PDCA has been helping people of all industries, including manufacturing, organize and improve processes. (In fact, PDCA is not all that different from the DAMAIC process).

Deming himself is best known for his work in the Japanese auto industry after WWII, “he championed the management principle of statistical process control, a precursor of Total Quality Management.”

“If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” – W. Edwards Deming

Plan

The first part of PDCA basically means to make a plan of action to improve a problem on the floor. Think about the problems you’re facing in the plant. What is a top priority and needs to be improved upon? Brainstorm with your team and create a plan for tackling that problem.

The idea behind PDCA is continuous improvement as we mentioned above so it’s very likely that you’ll use this methodology frequently, tackling one problem at a time, creating a plan of action each time.

Do

Well, this may sound obvious, but do is exactly how it sounds. You do the plan. You set forth the motions to improve whatever problem you’re trying to solve. This is where you and your team move into action.

Check

Check the results to see if you achieve the plan. Did you meet the goal? Did you fall short? What was the result of the “do” step in PDCA?

It’s not uncommon to NOT hit your goal. Really, this is the point of PDCA because you’ll likely need to continuously improve and as a result, will need to move to the next step – act or adjust – to actually fix or improve the problem.

Act or Adjust

If you haven’t completed the plan, then you act or adjust the plant to improve. When you do this part, these are often minor, incremental adjustments to improve something. And then, the process repeats until the plan is successful and goals have been met.

This part of the process actually applies to the 5 whys concept, too. What went wrong and how can you use the 5 whys to figure out the root cause? How do you make the problem stop? What changes can you make to improve upon the process set forth by PDCA?

After asking yourself these questions, you integrate the answers into part of the plan, “act”, and repeat PDCA until the problem is solved or improved.

PDCA as a Problem Solving Process

It may sound obvious to you as the reader, but a lot of people don’t approach problem-solving in the way PDCA lays out. Heck, at SensrTrx, we don’t even follow this methodology 100% of the time, even when we know we should.

PDCA puts problem-solving into a much more methodical framework so you can iterate over all of these things. Why aren’t more people following this way of approaching problems?

Think about it in terms of the SensrTrx software. There’s a lot of instances where PDCA comes into play within SensrTrx. In the software, you have a schedule that tells you what needs to be produced and when, this is the plan. Then, you start production, the do. You either hit the schedule or you don’t so you check to see how much was produced. If you didn’t produce to schedule, you need to act or adjust to ensure the schedule is met. Tools within SensrTrx like Pareto Charts, timelines, and statistics to help you figure out what went wrong. Based on that knowledge, you adjust your plan and around and around you go until the problem is solved.

Although, if you do hit your schedule, well, then you’re good to go.

This concept also falls into the standardization of work. The do step is basically the same every time, and you’re removing certain variables. With people and manufacturing processes, you don’t want to vary that much because it can cause significant issues.

PDCA also fits into 5s because if your workspace is clean and organized and all of your materials are in the same spot every time which eliminates variation, it helps you understand what you’re improving and ensuring improvements happen.

For more information on 5s, check out this podcast episode “The Foundations of Lean” with Nick Hinman, VP of Corporate Strategy at Tacony. 5s is a critical part of the company’s incentive program. 

In reality, PDCA is very similar to the scientific method. PDCA in particular is used by businesses, and manufacturers, throughout the world to solve problems and improve processes.