What is PDCA?

Let's start with the basics. What does PDCA stand for? It stands for:

  • Plan: Deciding which problem or idea your are going to work on, who and what you are going to need to do so successfully, what success will look like and how much time and effort you think you need. The plan phase is not a solitary effort. You work with your stakeholders to get a plan that is understood and supported by a big group of people.
  • Do: Implement your plan. 
  • Check: Measure the results from the do-phase to see whether your definition of success has been met. Review and analyze where it does not meet the definition of success and als when you have exceeded expectations.
  • Act: Adjust your implementation according to your findings in the check-phase.
PDCA to implement your ideas successfully

Which change methodologies use some form of PDCA?

The short answer is: almost every change methodology uses PDCA in short iterations to drive improvement. Each change methodology uses PDCA because it has a proven track record and is easy to understand. Just look at this video below for it's uses in process improvement.

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But it is also used in six sigma, lean, kata, design thinking, appreciative inquiry, scrum and agile. The process steps have different names, but they all have the same basic structure: Plan, Do, Check and Act.  Look at the the DMAIC example below from six sigma and see if you can recognize the PDCA cycle. Then look at the change methodology your company is working with and see if you can recognize the PDCA cycle.


Next to DMAIC you see awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement (ADKAR). This is a tool to help you build the skills, will and trust in people to help them embrace or at least try to move with the change ahead.

The PDCA cycle has a proven track record and looks easy enough. But next time we look at why it can be hard to implement and use PDCA well.


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