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This article explains the PDCA cycle further developed by William Edwards Deming in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful problem solving approach.
What is the PDCA cycle?
In process-oriented work, organizations will always aim at results. But how can organizations aim at achieving the desired results? The original founder of the PDCA cycle is Walter A. Shewhart (1939). William Edwards Deming further developed the PCDA cycle in the 1950 to help organisations achieve better results. This so-called Deming Cycle is a means of control to monitor the quality of changes and improvements within the organization. The PDCA cycle stands for the abbreviation of the four main steps in the cycle: Plan, Do, Check and (Re) Act.
The PDCA cycle has an iterative character, which enables a continuous attention to quality improvement. After the evaluation and possible adjustments, the process starts all over again. The models is often used at organizational level but can also be used at operational level. The PDCA cycle enables employees to assess their own way of working and to improve this, if necessary. Because everybody on the shop floor is part of the overall process, this will affect the entire organization positively.
How do you use the PDCA cycle?
The various steps within the PDCA cycle can be seen as separate sub processes.
In simple processes the steps are focused on separate activities:
Improvement is the key factor of the activities. What is the desired output/situation (Soll) and how do you want to achieve this? It is important to establish sound, ‘SMART’ objectives that are in conformity with all the stakeholders. Furthermore, the available resources should be investigated in advance.
This is about the implementation and realization of the planned improvements of the entire process. During the execution phase there will be continuous measurements and registrations of the output and relevant information will be compiled.
In this control phase the results of improvements will be measured and compared to the desired situation. If there are significant differences (‘planning-gap’) it is important to react quickly and track down the causes of these possible differences.
Upon detection of outcome differences, it is important to make adjustments. Measures will be taken to achieve the originally planned results.
In complex management processes there is also a Pro-Act phase. The Pro-Act phase is a design phase which investigates how a new vision and/or strategy can be developed. New possibilities will also be examined in order to obtain good results. All collected information can be used in the Re-Act or in the Plan Phase.
PDCA cycle on all levels
The PDCA cycle is rather used unconsciously than consciously at all management levels. The management board focuses more on the primary business processes whereas the middle management level focuses on the sub processes resulting from primary business processes. Interaction between the process itself and the end result is of great importance at all levels. The flow of ideas from which the results arise will get going first. After the evaluation process adjustments will be made and thereupon the assignment flow will be started up again. This continuously guarantees the quality.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? How do you apply the PDCA cycle in your daily business? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have additions? What are your success factors for a good use of the PDCA cycle?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Bulsuk, K.G. (2009). Taking the First Step with PDCA. Available at http://www.bulsuk.com/2009/02/taking-first-step-with-pdca.html.
- Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis. MIT Centre for Advanced Engineering Study.
- Shewhart, W. A. (1939). Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control. Dover Publications.
- Sobek II, D. K., & Smalley, A. (2008). Understanding A3 Thinking: A Critical Component of Toyota’s PDCA Management System. Productivity Press.
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