Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) – is a well-known and respected approach to helping teams plan and implements a solution to a problem, often testing it on a micro scale and reviewing the results before agreeing how to proceed.
PDCA encourages an engaged, problem-solving workforce – the method is not limited to managers, but can be used across the organizational structure, using combined knowledge and experience. This helps business to innovate through creative problem solving.
The easiest way to think of it is a prototyping model. But it can be used for larger projects, where testing is not feasible – for example, if a business has already bought new, expensive equipment to solve a problem, then the implementation has to be on a large scale.
Usually the Problem Solving Group (PS) has already identified what they want to solve and the changes they would like to make. This may include how outcomes will be measured, or a specification. PDCA would then drop into any planning and implementation phases.
The 4 steps of the PDCA Cycle
This first stage clarifies the objectives of the chosen solution, and will identify which processes need to change (the problem will have already been defined, and a solution proposed using other problem solving techniques).
The PS group will plan how the solution is tested, and forecast what is expected to happen during the PDCA the cycle. This will result in a set of outputs, and usually set a baseline for improvement.
Focused work at this stage includes agreeing what data is to be collected, what resources are needed, and the actions that will take place and when. The PS group will then decide where the trial run will be held. At this stage ‘before’ data is collected for later comparison in the ‘Check’ step.
This involves physically implementing the solution, and collecting data for analysis in the next step, observation and project management.
This step should also include oversight to ensure that the solution is implemented as per the specification.
This step is about analyzing ‘before’, ‘during’, and ‘after’ data to see what can be learned. (Another name for this step is ‘Study’). ‘During’ data is easy to overlook, but any plan is implemented in phases, and if issues are to be found and identified quickly, these actions need to be measured.
Not only will the process be observed qualitatively as well as quantitatively, feedback can be gathered from the end users of the solution.
The data from the observations, and feedback from staff is analyzed, and compared to the baseline. Issues and successes are identified.
If the ‘Check’ demonstrates that the ‘Plan’ phase was implemented effectively and improvements can be seen on the baseline, then a new baseline is created and the cycle returns to ‘Plan’, using the new baseline.
If ‘Check’ results infer that there has been no improvement from the ‘Do’ phase, then the existing baseline continues in place. In either scenario, if ‘Check’ reveals something different from expected (whether it has out-performed or underperformed), then it identifies that more learning is needed.
This may even result in the returning to the overarching problem solving technique, and the process of problem identification and definition, using the chosen problem-solving model. Adjustments or corrective actions should not be undertaken at this stage, and should never be done without a formal ‘Plan’ phase. Additionally, the baseline should not be changed from verified one, discovered in ‘Act’.
- Staff is more willing to try a new solution, if they know it is not a fait accompli – especially if modifications are based on user’s feedback and views, as well as measurement.
- The method creates acceptance and ownership in the end user as confidence in the solution grows quickly, as mistakes are rectified as part of the process.
- The model allows potential solutions to be implemented on a small scale, and ascertain how effective they are.
- Importantly this model provides an opportunity for learning why something isn’t working before it is fully implemented.
- It involves a wide range of people across the organization, and provides a range of perspectives.