PDCA: A Proven Model for Continuous Business Improvement
The human brain likes information and certainty. We default to the “fight” part of fight-or-flight mode without these things. But the more our brains can predict what’s happening, the less threatened they feel.
In today’s workplace, though, uncertainty is the name of the game. It’s become increasingly difficult to predict what will happen in the world at large or even within our teams.
While we can’t help our employees learn to predict the future, we can help them develop the right mindset to be able to roll with it. By providing frameworks and mental models, we give them the tools they need to act in the face of ambiguity. PDCA is one framework that can help your employees become more adaptable and willing to accept change. Let’s explore the PDCA model and how you might apply it in your organization.
The PDCA model was developed in the 1950s by William Deming. It’s based on the scientific method of problem-solving. You might have also heard it referred to as “the Deming wheel” or “the Deming cycle.”
One of the most important things to know about the PDCA model is that it’s a loop rather than a process with a finite start and finish. You learn and observe as you go through each step and apply what you’ve learned to future iterations.
The PDCA model tends to be used to test multiple solutions, roll out continuous improvement, and develop or improve a process. It’s a simple model used in a wide variety of situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to roll out. And because it’s a loop, you need to commit to repeating it on an ongoing basis rather than trying it once and calling it quits.
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The 4 stages of PDCA
PDCA stands for plan, do, check, and act. Here’s what each step of the PDCA loop involves.
PDCA step 1: Plan
During the planning stage, you will define your problem or opportunity. This step also involves hypothesizing a few ways to reach your goal and deciding how you will define success. A few questions to ask yourself during the planning stage include: What is the core problem we need to solve? Is this the right problem to work on? And what resources do we need?
PDCA step 2: Do
As you might imagine, the doing stage involves taking action. It’s your chance to test out the hypothesis you came up within the previous step. Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to carry out the “do” step in a small or controlled environment, like on a single team. The reason for taking this approach is to minimize the disruption you might cause to the rest of your organization.
PDCA step 3: Check
Now that you’ve taken action, the next step is to check what happened. Go back to the plan you came up with in step 1. How did it work? Did you run into any roadblocks or challenges? Is there a better way to approach the problem or process next time? Be sure to consider whether you were “successful” based on the criteria you defined in step 1. If not, you might decide to try one of your other hypotheses and go back and forth between the “do” and “check” steps for a few more iterations.
PDCA step 4: Act
The next step, “act,” involves implementing the plan you came up with. If you were running a pilot or controlled setup, perhaps you’ll be rolling out this new process to another group or across your organization. Questions to ask yourself at this stage include: What resources do we need to implement the solution fully? How can we measure and track success? And what have we learned that could be applied in other areas?
Help your organization face change with confidence
Change is constant, necessary, and positive — though it doesn’t always feel that way.
Learning to accept change is critical for thriving in the modern workplace. This sense of adaptability is also known as “change agility.” Learning to implement a model like PDCA can give your employees the skills to tackle change and ambiguity with confidence.
Looking for more ways to boost your employees’ adaptability? Download The 5 Principles of Change Agility: How to Prepare for Anything.