PDCA or plan-do-check-act, is an iterative four step management tool used for control and continuous improvement of products and or processes. This tool was made popular by W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the father of modern quality control;
The concept of PDCA is based on the scientific method, as developed from the work of Francis Bacon. Back in the 1600’s Bacon successfully argued scientific knowledge could be developed by use of an approach that is both skeptical and methodical preventing scientists from misleading themselves. As this writer knows from her scientific training, the scientific method can be written as "hypothesis–experiment–evaluation."
Let’s look at the four steps.
PLAN: Recognize an opportunity and plan a change.
DO: Test the change. Carry out a small-scale study.
CHECK: Review the test, analyze the results, and identify what you’ve learned.
ACT: Take action based on what you learned in the study step. If the change did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again.
Use the PDCA cycle when:
Implementing any change
Starting a new or improved product or process development
Planning for continuous improvement
Planning data collection and analysis to verify and prioritize problems/root causes
Imagine you own a restaurant specializing in barbecued ribs. Recently, your ribs are not selling as well as in the past. Your hypothesis is that people are a little “tired” of your recipe. So, you employ the PDCA tool:
Your Goal is to find a new successful recipe for your ribs. To do so you will start offering 5 alternatives to your customers. Each week, you will keep the top 3 and introduce 2 new ones. You’ll use an iterative process to find which ingredients and cooking processes your customers like best.
The first week, you prepare the 5 best recipes, listing all the ingredients that each one has and what cooking processes you followed. Once you have feedback, you’ll make different modifications.
At the end of every week, you check the most successful recipes. Your goal in this step is to see if your recipes are going in the right direction.
Once you have checked the best recipes, you analyze and decide what new recipes you will use next week.
Result: After 3 months of research, you end up with a successful recipe that has been undefeated for 4 consecutive weeks.