Taking the First Step with the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Cycle

Learn the basics of how to use the PDCA Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act), the very first quality improvement and effective project management tool in your arsenal when implementing kaizen.

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PDCA is the very first, fundamental tool in your arsenal in implementing kaizen. It mainly does three things:
  1. Helps you to continually change and tweak what you do in order to:
    1. Achieve higher quality in your results and processes.
    2. Gain continual increases in work efficiency.
  2. Allows you to clearly see which stage your project is at.
  3. Assists you in handling your work logically and systematically.
Simply put, PDCA is a way to reduce reliance on Murphy’s Law, and move from a reactive problem fixing model to a proactive one.

The original concept was made popular by statistician Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality management. PDCA is quite easy to understand and quite easy to carry out, as long as you keep track at which stage you’re in.

To carry PDCA out, you need to follow the four step cycle as in the diagram above. Firstly, you start with Plan.

P is for Plan

In any project, you will first need a detailed plan. Make sure to identify your goals, delegate work properly and set a clear action plan with key milestones.

Don’t forget to document your plans in order to help you analyze its effectiveness later.

D is for Do

Once you have your plan, do it! As no plan is ever completely perfect, make sure you make a list of problems as you encounter them, and how you responded to them.

C is for Check

Once you’ve finished the project, immediately call the team to compile the list of problems and solutions they’ve encountered. Share the information with the team so that everyone knows and understands how to avoid these problems, or to fix them if they happen to reappear again later.

After that, take an all-encompassing look at the project. There are usually some key areas where you’ve felt that could improve project efficiency, or where you could have done something better. Brainstorm, and identify areas for improvement.

For each problem you found, identify the root causes by using 5-why. In essence, you would set the problem up like an equation, then ask why did this happen? five times. To provide a basic example, let’s say that we’ve just finished organizing a Gala Dinner, and we had a problem in which the catering service delivered the food 2 hours behind schedule. To find the root causes, we would do the following:

Step Reason Why?
1 The caterer delivered food 2 hours late. Why did this happen?
2 Because we did not prepare the purchase order on time. Why was the purchase order not prepared on time?
3 Because we did not get all approval signatures on time. Why didn’t get the signatures on time?
4 Because we prepared the PO 3 days before the event. Why did we prepare it late?
5 Because we forgot to prepare the PO. Why did we forget about it?
Root Cause: Because we didn’t have a checklist to clearly identify the tasks we needed to complete at what time.

In this case, one of the root causes is that we lacked a checklist to ensure everything was prepared at the designated time. There are a series of detailed articles on the purpose of 5-why, as well as downloadable tools and tutorials here.

A is for Act

You now know the root causes of the problems, now fix them. Your job here is to ensure these problems don’t rear their ugly heads again the next time you carry out this project. Solving an issue by fixing the root cause is like uprooting weeds, as they won’t grow back again. If you solve a problem as they come along, then all you’re doing is cutting weeds. With a bit of time, they’ll just grow back and come back to haunt you.

Once the root causes are eliminated, it is important to standardize these techniques in order to ensure that everyone knows about it, and that they don’t happen again. That can be achieved through documentation and sharing this knowledge through PDCA meetings with your team, and other stakeholders.

And when you’re done…

After you’ve finished the Act portion, you go right back to Planning the next stage of the project. Don’t forget to use what you have learned during the PDCA loop to make the project even better next time.


  • PDCA is a never ending cycle designed to improve quality and efficiency

  • P = Plan your work well.

  • D = Do the plan

  • C = Check the problems you’ve encountered and their root causes. Also identify areas for improvement

  • A = Act to fix the root causes.

  • Download

    I have uploaded the PDCA diagram seen above to share in the Wikimedia Commons as a SVG file, which means you can resize it in a vector editing program such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. Alternatively, Wikimedia Commons also has an option to generate the SVG into a PNG file, which means you can use it immediately in your Word documents or PowerPoint presentations immediately without any further editing.

    There are two versions of the PDCA cycle available for download, one of which includes a detailed subset of PDCA. Please click on the version you would like to download:

    You can read more about horenso (effective communication), PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act), mieruka (use of visuals) and 5-why here, which also includes articles, tutorials and downloadable diagrams, sheets, PDFs and other tools to help you implement kaizen and bring the competitive edge of the Toyota Way to your manufacturing or service-industry project or organization.



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    K Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Taking the First Step with the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Cycle
    Taking the First Step with the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Cycle
    Learn the basics of how to use the PDCA Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act), the very first quality improvement and effective project management tool in your arsenal when implementing kaizen.
    K Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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