PDCA Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, and Act...Over and Over Again

The PDCA cycle is a proven problem-solving method.

Managers and business owners face new problems every day.

Keeping track of it all is difficult.

The complexity of practically everything adds to the challenge.

What would really help is to gain a little control.

Understanding and applying the PDCA cycle allows you to systematically (repeatable and consistently, and not necessarily slowly) improve the things that are holding your business back.

With any problem, the solution begins with clearly defining what's wrong. Then, you can apply PDCA to take it apart and figure out what to do.


  • P: Plan- Gather information. Observe the work. Measure what you can. Refine the understanding of the problem you think is occuring. Make a decision about what to change first.
  • D: Do- Do it. Make the change. Adjust something in the process.
  • C: Check- Re-measure. Confirm that the thing you did provided the result you wanted.
  • A: Act- Decide to try something else. Or, decide to keep a close eye on the thing you are measuring. If needed, decide to plan again.

The structure provided can be incredibly helpful. Resisting the urge to skip plan, check, and act- and go straight to "do"- can be hard.

W. Edwards Deming understood this. He was one of the early advocates of the PDCA cycle as a tool to drive capable improvement. Deming knew a lot about business processes. He also understood a lot about people. In fact, many of his 14 points were about people, leadership and respect...and, generally, thinking.

And the real value of PDCA is in the thinking it allows and encourages.


The minute your work as a manager or business owner becomes about following the steps like a recipe, results will suffer and the point will be missed. PDCA is about thinking. The approach is in line with the way our brains work. Basically, the PDCA approach to problem solving provides a way for us to organize all the available information and make some good decisions.

To do this right, the process or problem has to be observed, people need to be spoken to, things need to be measured, and root cause needs to be determined. Only after that should a thoughtful decision to do something be made.

The PDCA cycle works best, however, when it is not seen as linear. At the very least it's circular. In reality, it is probably more like a 3-D movie. Our thought processes are multi-dimensional. We can take in lots of information from multiple sources. As a result, the PDCA appraoch as a problem solving guide should also allow for looping back, taking a detour, and discovering new things along the way.

Successful managers and business owners have to think. PDCA provides some guidance, but the work must be done by our brains. It provides help managing all the stuff managers must manage.

The structure allows for control.


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