What is the PDCA cycle?

PDCA, which stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act, is a four-step project management tool for implementing continuous improvement. It involves systematically testing possible solutions, assessing the results, and implementing the ones that have shown to work. It promotes testing improvements on a small scale before updating company-wide procedures and work methods.

Other names PDCA goes by include Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, Deming cycle, and Shewhart cycle. It is based on the scientific method of problem-solving and was popularized by Dr W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the leading thought leader of modern quality control.

When PDCA is applied within a maintenance program, it can accelerate constant improvement and help the company optimize their processes and operations. If every step is carried out consistently and correctly, iterations can take place quicker, which means improvements happen faster.

The PDCA cycle methodology

Here’s a breakdown of what each step in the PDCA cycle entails:

Plan: Refers to recognizing where opportunities exist and making a plan to implement change. In a manufacturing setting, the planning process could be to decide on what operational problem needs resolving or improving.

Do: Implement the change and test its effectiveness. The ideas, methods and/or process improvements in the plan must now be put into place. This may include changes to production processes, maintenance strategies, implementing training or changing work practices.

Check: Review the test, measure and analyze the results, and evaluate the lessons learned. Data such as production output, machine availability and safety statistics should be measured against the projected outcomes detailed in the plan.

Act: Take action towards improvement based on what you learned from the test. If the change does not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If the experiment was a success, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Learnings from the test can be applied to continual change, which can then be put through the PDCA cycle again.

Example of how to apply the PDCA cycle

An example of how to use the PDCA cycle is within inventory management. It’s easy for inventory to be misplaced or go missing, or not know how many spare parts you have on hand for each asset. PDCA can help you optimize the way you store and organize your inventory.

You can implement a test by creating a detailed procedure and checklist for how items should be documented when they arrive in the facility and where they should be stored. Evaluate each step of the procedure and see where any communication gaps may lie between employees responsible for each step, or if there is a lack of clarity in how the steps are laid out within the instructions and checklist. Keep iterating until all stakeholders are satisfied with the new procedure for documenting new inventory, and create a plan for rolling it out to the rest of your inventory.

What’s really useful about the PDCA cycle is that it gives you actual, verifiable results instead of having to guess. It also allows you to easily modify each aspect of your operations until you’ve achieved the desired result. The PDCA cycle enables you to focus on implementing actual improvements instead of having to spend so much time analyzing the situation and assessing the risk from each change.

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The PDCA process can have great uses in the area of facility maintenance for continual improvement, but it’s important to apply it carefully and in a controlled manner. To minimize risk, test small changes first and then roll out the successful tests on a larger scale. It’s also a good idea to learn how to combine the PDCA cycle with other tools in the areas of quality management, change management and problem-solving. This way, you’re able to have a tool kit full with a full range of possible solutions available at your disposal.

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