PDCA, what it means, and for what it is used.

PDCA is a problem-solving methodology aiming to solve problems in four steps, plan, do, check, act.
Deming Wheel or PDCA Cycle

PDCA and the scientific method

Have you used PDCA? Have you ever tried to solve a recurrent problem over and over without success?  Do you remember everything you tried?  How much time do you spend on defining the problem?  Do you understand what the problem is?  Do you understand the process you are trying to fix?  Maybe, part of the problem is that you don’t have a method for problem-solving.

The PDCA cycle is a problem-solving methodology applied by many organizations in different industries.  Remember when you were in school, and you learn in science about hypothesis and experimentation?  PDCA is a way to test different theories in a controlled environment.  It is based on the scientific method, a process used by scientists to test whether any statement or theory is accurate.

PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act.  There are a couple of variations or names for it, like PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act), Deming Wheel, and Shewhart Cycle.  The cycle is a four steps model for problem solving and processes or services continuous improvement.  Below is a basic description of each step.

The steps: Plan, Do, Check, Act

After you recognize an opportunity for improvement or a problem, you start with the first step, Plan.  As the name indicates, during this step you plan the activities and set the goals for your experiment.  It is important to understand the situation and analyze the problem, or opportunity before developing theories about what the issues may be.  As soon as all this is clear, decide which one to test. 

During the second step, Do, you test the solution.  You carry out a small-scale study by completing the planned activities, including measuring the results.

In Check, the third step, you study or analyze the results, and decide if the hypothesis is correct or not.  What did you learn?  Did you accomplish the objectives or goals stated during the Plan step?  

The last step is Act, where you take action based on the previous step learnings.  If the objectives were not accomplished, you need to go through the cycle again.  If the test was successful, use what you learned to improve the process.  While implementing the solution, do not forget to change the standard work and communicate the changes to the team.

Benefits of PDCA

PDCA provides a standard method for problem-solving.  While you document each step, you keep a map or journal of everything you tested so far.  You know without guessing what works or not.   PDCA is simple to follow and is an excellent tool for any kind of improvement activity like, designing a new product or implementing changes in a process.  With PDCA, you will not find yourself scratching your head trying to remember what you tried before.