The PDCA cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, is a simple process that is constantly repeated over time. Its purpose is to repeatedly detect errors in order to continuously improve the quality of processes, products, and people. With this cycle, continuous learning and renewed knowledge is generated in each iteration.
Based on the lean methodology and the Kaizen philosophy, this cycle is used by a large number of companies around the world. It is so well-known that international quality management standards have been developed based on it.
- The PDCA cycle is an iterative process that aims to detect failures in order to achieve continuous improvement. Being ambitious and innovative is a crucial requirement.
- There are certain tools that are very useful when applying this cycle in its different phases.
- This cycle has been so influential that it has served as the basis for a series of international standards for use in companies, known as ISO.
5 points to understand the PDCA cycle
It has served as inspiration for the famous lean startup method that is widely used today, where innovation is clearly the soul of the method. Those companies that cling to their business model, get comfortable, and do not dare to innovate and change are being left behind. In our globalized market, not applying this cycle can be a great burden if you want to have or lead a successful organization.
1. Origin of the PDCA cycle
The PDCA cycle is also known as “Deming’s Principles” or “Deming’s Wheel”. This cycle was first developed by Walter Shewart in the 1920s in the USA. However, it was Edwards Deming who later popularized it and successfully applied it in Japan (2).
After World War II, Japan needed to regenerate, and to achieve this it required quality standards in its industries. These standards and quality systems bore fruit from the 1960s “coinciding” with Deming’s application of the PDCA cycle in Japanese industry.
The success could not have been greater, the Japanese obtained excellent results by implementing a quality mark based on the PDCA cycle. This helped them rebuild the country after the devastation of the war, achieving industrial and technological excellence that only a few countries have matched so far (3).
2. Stages of the PDCA cycle
The PDCA cycle is a four-stage process. The intention is that every product, process, or service that goes through this wheel-shaped cycle will end up in an improved version of itself.
It consists of conducting an assessment of the situation, taking into account the company’s objectives and the client’s needs. The goal here should be to detect the problems to be solved or the aspects to be improved, in order to develop an improvement plan.
To do this, you must first gather good information in order not to confuse the real problem with other elements. In addition, having quality information about the problem will help you to tackle it as efficiently and directly as possible. In summary, this phase of the cycle is divided into:
- Identifying a problem.
- Analyzing it.
- Developing a theoretical and hypothetical plan to try to solve it.
- Defining what you expect to happen, i.e., your objectives and goals with respect to the problem.
At this stage, you must define the plan proposed in the previous stage. Once it is defined and all decision-makers are in agreement, you must implement the solution as a test.
As it is a test, it is important that you carry it out on a small scale, in a controlled environment. Note that it should not disrupt other processes within the organization, so it is important that it is carried out in parallel to the normal operation of the organization.
After conducting your pilot test, you should measure the results. This measurement must be done by comparing the results obtained with the results expected in the first stage or Plan stage. At this point, you may encounter different situations:
- The results may be far from the desired ones. If this happens, you should consider repeating the previous stages, as perhaps, there has been a root failure, such as an error in the detection of the problem.
- The results have been successful or are close to the desired plan. You must be aware of the deviations that have occurred in order to make a successful correction. In this case, you can continue to the next stage of the cycle (5).
Once you have verified that the improvement plan meets the desired levels proposed in the first stage, you should perform the following procedures (6):
- Document the procedures you have achieved. Keep in mind that proper documentation will help you standardize the processes later.
- Train the people or employees who will perform the new or improved process. This will be easier if you have implemented the on-the-job training strategy in the “doing” stage.
- Monitor certain parameters that are important or critical for constant control and evaluation of the new process.
- Finally, keep in mind that this is only the beginning, you must continue to improve and repeat the cycle.
3. Practical example of the PDCA cycle
Here is a case study that will help you to better understand the different phases of the PDCA cycle (7).
|Phase||How to act|
|Plan||Identify the problem: I received a car ticket by mistake that is in my name, but the license plate belongs to another car. The mail delivery person brought me the letter that was meant for someone else, assuming it was me because it had my name on it. |
Analyze the problem: How did that mistake happen? What effects could it have? If the ticket is not paid, it could have economic and penal consequences for me.
|Make||Develop possible solutions: should I ignore the ticket and throw it in the trash? Should I call the appropriate office? Should I call a family member or friend who is a police officer or judge and let them handle it?|
Implement the chosen hypothesis or solution: I call the appropriate office. In addition to the office, I call different official departments that can give me information and assistance.
|Verify||Evaluate the results: neither calling the office nor calling the different departments gives me results since they did not know how to help me, has the desired objective been achieved? No, so I will have to go back to the first step and review the information. Going back to review the letter, I find the number for the state violations office. The person on the other end of the phone clarifies step by step what I need to do to resolve the situation.|
|Act||Standardize the situation: if the error occurs again, I will call the state violations office directly; otherwise, to prevent future errors, I will inform the person responsible for sending me the letter accidentally.|
4. Fundamental aspects to successfully implement the PDCA cycle
Understanding how the cycle works is only the first step. The important thing about this type of business technique is knowing how to implement it in an organization. To do this, we recommend a series of tools, strategies, and rules that you should know before starting to put the PDCA cycle into action.
Best tools for the Plan stage
Tools and strategies that work best in the Plan stage (4):
- 5W + 1H method: What, Who, Where, When, Why, How to gather information.
- Ishikawa diagram and Pareto diagram to determine the problem.
- The 5 Whys tool, to find the root cause of the problem.
Best tools for the Do stage
- DOE or design of experiments. It serves to provide a solution to a problem by making the least number of tests possible.
- Train workers with the on-the-job training technique. This tool trains workers in real work situations. Mistakes help you learn, so learn from them.
Best tools for the Verify stage
- Direct observation of the process.
- Establish key performance indicators (KPIs). They are used to measure and control certain aspects or specific metrics that are very important for our system or process.
Best tools for the Act stage
- Document changes.
- Train workers on the adapted changes.
- Standardize new processes and elements.
5. The PDCA cycle in ISO standards
Knowing how to successfully implement the PDCA cycle in your organization requires knowledge of the ISO standards, or at least the most important ones. Many of the ISO standards are based on the PDCA cycle. Therefore, the PDCA cycle, with its simplicity, helps to understand these standards. More importantly, it helps to apply them in organizations.
Here are some of the most important standards, as well as how to implement them in a company.
The PDCA cycle in ISO 9001
The ISO 9001 standard establishes the requirements of a Quality Management System (QMS). By applying this standard, you will obtain a solid foundation for achieving a continuous improvement process in your organization (8).
However, this standard alone is not enough, your company needs to have a strong quality culture and implement total quality strategies.
At this point it is interesting to know the PDCA cycle for two reasons; the ISO 9001 standard is based on this cycle, and on the other hand, this cycle helps you to implement it in your organization to achieve significant results.
We will now show you the ISO 9001 structure in relation to the PDCA cycle and its application:
|The PDCA cycle in ISO 9001|
|1. Planning||The organization and its context, customer requirements, and the needs and expectations of interested parties must be taken into account.|
|2. Do||It concerns the resources (people, infrastructure, knowledge, etc.) and actions that the organization must provide for the implementation of the QMS.|
|3. Verify||It is a matter of evaluating performance. This evaluation is carried out on the results of the QMS taking into account customer satisfaction with the products and services we provide.|
|4. Act||The organization must seek and select opportunities for improvement and implement any action that meets the customer’s requirements.|
The PDCA cycle in ISO 14001
The international ISO 14001 standard specifies the environmental requirements that you must have in your organization. It is a standard applicable to any organization, it can be applied in its entirety or part of it.
However, it does not have specific requirements like the quality management standard (ISO 9001). This means that its application may be different from one organization to another (9).
Its relationship with the PDCA cycle is very strong, similar to the other standards, its essence is the same as that of the cycle. In addition, it becomes easier to apply if you use the PDCA cycle as in the following example:
- Plan: you must establish the environmental objectives and the processes necessary to achieve the results in relation to the organization’s environmental policy.
- Do: implement the processes as planned.
- Verify: measure the processes and results taking into account the environmental policy and report the results.
- Act: make adjustments or take actions for continuous improvement.
The PDCA cycle in ISO 27001
The ISO 27001 standard deals with the applicability of the Information Security Management System (ISMS). In these times where technology is the protagonist, information has become more vulnerable and coveted within organizations. Considering that the main objective of this standard is to safeguard the company’s information, it is vital that you know how to apply it (10).
As we have explained, the PDCA cycle is a process that must be repeated constantly to seek continuous improvement. Apart from understanding how it works, it is important to know how to put it into practice, thus we have provided you with the best tools and some examples.
The interesting thing about this process or cycle is that it can be used to revolutionize an industry, as well as for everyday circumstances. It is possible that if you have a company or a position with responsibility, you have come across an ISO standard. Now, that you understand how the PDCA cycle works you will better understand how to apply these standards.
Check the Best Business Process Management Software
1. Sokovic, M. (2010). Quality Improvement Methodologies – PDCA Cycle, RADAR Matrix, DMAIC and DFSS. . Retrieved November 14, 2022
2. Marcos, A. (2021). Continuous improvement circle. . Retrieved November 16, 2022,
3. Lara Ysidro, J. A. (2019). PHVA and inventory costs in the company IMD Industrial S.A.C., Lima 2019 . . Retrieved November 16, 2022,
4. Chojnacka-Komorowska, A. (2019). Improving the quality control process using the PDCA cycle . . Retrieved November 15, 2022,
5. Portilla, C. (2017). APPLICATION OF THE PHVA CYCLE TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF SALES OF THE PROTECTED PURCHASE INSURANCE OF THE COMPANY CHUBB PERU S.A ,2017. . Retrieved November 16, 2022,
6. Quispe, A. S. (2020). Implementation of the PHVA cycle to increase the productivity of the production area in the company T&T Fruits S.A., Huaral 2020. . Retrieved November 16, 2022,
7. Johnson, C. N. (2002). The Benefits of PDCA. . Retrieved November 15, 2022,
8. Cruz Medina, F. L. (2017). ISO 9001-2015 MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: QUALITY ENGINEERING TECHNIQUES AND TOOLS FOR ITS IMPLEMENTATION . . Retrieved November 15, 2022,
9. Valdés Fernández, J. L. (2015). Guide for the implementation of ISO 14001 2005. . Retrieved November 15, 2022
10. Gómez Galindo, D. M. (2018). DEVELOPMENT OF THE INFORMATION SECURITY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (SGSI) ALIGNED WITH THE ISO 27001 STANDARD AND ITS BASIC REQUIREMENTS IN THE APPLICATION OF THE PHVA CYCLE. . Retrieved November 15, 2022,