Discuss the PDCA cycle

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In this post, we will discuss the PDCA cycle or the Deming cycle which is an important strategic framework used for continuous improvement and a critical part of lean manufacturing.

The PDCA cycle is a four-step iterative technique used for making improvements to products, people and business processes. In various regards it is like the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen. It is also a key component of lean manufacturing adopted by leading businesses like Toyota and Nike. PDCA is an important requirement for businesses striving to make continuous improvement to their products and processes.

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The PDCA cycle was originally developed by the American physicist Walter A Shewart in the 1920s and later popularized by Dr W Edwards Deming. He named it Shewart cycle after his mentor. However, the PDCA cycle is also known as the Deming cycle.

The PDCA cycle offers several benefits. In a hypercompetitive business world, where businesses are looking for methods to improve their processes, increase productivity and efficiency, reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction, PDCA can be very helpful. It can also help businesses differentiate themselves from their rivals.

The PDCA cycle is a four step process which includes – Plan, Do, Check, and Act. It includes planning, implementation, analysis and improvement. It is an iterative technique which means the same process is repeated for making continuous improvement.

Stages of the PDCA cycle:

PLAN:

This is the first stage of the cycle where you need to plan what has to be done. Often it is the lengthiest part of the entire process. The level of efforts involved in this stage mainly depends on the type and size of the project. The planning part is generally divided into smaller substeps. These substeps can be understood as the points you need to address in your plan. It is important to cover the susbsteps since that will ensure the success of your plan.

Managers need to address some basic concerns in this stage. There are some questions that need to be asked to develop a solid plan.

The first critical question that needs to be asked when conducting planning for improvement is that what is the core problem. You must first define the problem clearly. Next, you need to address the goals and objectives. You must ask yourself what is your target and what you are trying to achieve through the change. Take a look at the resources you have and then analyze what extra resources you will need to address the problem. Then, you should develop solutions and select the one that suits your needs or addresses the problem best.

Planning becomes a lengthy process since there are many substeps that might need to be repeated. Managers may need to collect a lot of data to develop a plan and then prepare reports to support planning. Apart from that, the manager and his team might also need to go through the plan a few times before finalizing and moving to the next step.

DO:

This is the action or implementation part. The previous stage was the strategy development part where you developed the strategy or plan for action, analysis and improvement. In the second stage, you execute your plan or implement everything you have considered at the previous stage.

At this stage, you might encounter new problems you had not anticipated. To avoid any unpredictable problems happening in the second stage, you must first implement your plan at a smaller scale and in a controlled environment. However, encountering new problems at this stage is quite common. One should try to solve them as they occur.

Standardization can also help at this stage. It will help you and your team apply the plan smoothly. You must create a standard and ensure that the team follows the standards. You may need to provide some training or additional resources but make sure that workers adhere to standards not just when you start the implementation but later as well. You must also make sure that everyone in the team is familiar with his role and responsibilities.

CHECK:

This is probably the most critical and often overlooked stage of the PDCA cycle. You need to analyse if the solution you implemented really worked. Check if the goals you had set were achieved.  If managers need to avoid recurring mistakes and apply continuous improvement successfully, it is essential that they pay enough attention to this phase.

What

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happens in many cases that the managers do not pay enough attention to the Check phase. So, the results appear but they do not last. Many times they see KPIs improving and then move on. However, it all just gets back to the previous situation after some days because the ‘Check’ phase was not perfectly covered. The whole idea of the ‘Check’ phase is to audit the execution of your plan and to find if the initial plan worked. The team will be able to identify the hurdles and problematic parts that require to be eliminated. If the target was not achieved or anything went wrong, it is during the check phase, that you will be able to find the root cause. So, managers should try to make sure that the improvements they brought about will continue to work and not revert after a few days. The improvement must continue working and that is most important objective of the check phase.

ACT:

In the previous stage, you audited the execution of your plan and analysed if the desired objectives were met or not. Once you have the outcome of the execution in your hands, you can move to the Act phase. If you achieved your targets and everything looks perfect, then your team can move on and apply the initial plan. If the objectives of the plan were met perfectly, it would be appropriate to adopt the whole plan. So, this PDCA model will become your standard baseline for future. Your team will need to cover all the steps of the initial plan again and must try to improve carefully.

However, if your initial plan failed to achieve the desired objectives or achieved them only partially, you must check out the reason why it did not work. Why did the solution you applied, not perform as expected? So, the PDCA cycle will begin again with a new plan or with adjustments to your initial plan to find a superior solution that might help achieve the desired objectives.

The PDCA cycle is simple and yet an effective approach to fixing various types of problems inside an organization. Several companies have made it a part of their planning process and several times managers even apply this model unknowingly. The iterative approach helps you find and test solutions and make improvements through a continuous waste reducing cycle. However, one must not try to apply the PDCA model to urgent issues since it takes time.

A few last words:

As organizations grow, they face various new sets of problems and challenges. Many times growth becomes difficult if the managers do not adopt a suitable framework for problem solving. The PDCA cycle offers a unique approach to solving various types of problems inside organizations including operational and other problems. The cycle is also known as Deming as well as Shewart cycle. Perhaps the most lengthy of the four stages in this cycle is the planning stage. However, apart from the ‘plan’ and ‘do’ stages, managers also need to understand the criticality of the ‘check’ stage. This is the most critical stage in terms of making improvements since auditing the outcome and identifying the root cause of the problems is critical before one can finally implement the solution.

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The act phase is the last phase of the cycle and what you do in this stage depends on the outcome in the third stage or the check phase. The PDCA cycle has been found to be effective in various types of settings and many times managers use this approach without knowing they are using it. Businesses that want to make continuous improvements to their products and processes must adopt the PDCA cycle. Due to its effectiveness, the cycle is also compared with the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen. In the modern hypercompetitive business environment, continuous improvement has become essential to staying competitive and maintaining a strong growth momentum. There are several famous businesses that have adopted the lean philosophy like Toyota and Nike. These businesses have benefitted strongly from continuous improvement and it is important to note that PDCA cycle is a critical part of lean manufacturing.