PDCA, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, is a proven and powerful improvement method widely used within many organizations. With the PDCA Cycle, plans are drawn up, actions are carried out, and there is continuous evaluation. The intention of this cycle is to continuously guarantee quality. This is why there is a lot of evaluation, so that adjustments can be made and the process can be started again from the beginning. 


The PDCA Cycle, a process improvement method by Deming, is a model from the 1930s. It is one of the oldest and most popular methods used within the management of any company. This is because the cycle provides insights into a lot of important issues, namely: 

– Simple methodology, possible for any industry 

The PDCA Cycle is easy to apply and is suitable for any industry. It offers a lot of added value that can be worked out immediately. 

– Competitive insights 

The PDCA cycle enables you to look at a company’s objectives. Bottlenecks are also identified. It also identifies competitors who score better on specific points. Based on all this information, new objectives can be formulated to ensure an improved process. 

– Using the right objectives 

In the PDCA cycle, objectives are formulated in a SMART way. For many companies, this means revisiting the objectives. In the fourth step, objectives are often adjusted and fine-tuned, after evaluations have taken place in step 3. 

– Structure of processes 

Measuring is knowing and with this cycle there is continuous monitoring in both step 2 and step 3. In this way a lot of information is collected which gives more structure to processes. What goes well, what can be improved? These are questions that are asked in the cycle. 


Working out a method often looks different in practice. The PDCA Cycle consists of four steps: plan, do, check and act. 


Plan is the first step in the PDCA Cycle. During this first step a plan is drawn up in which the intended results are clearly described. This means that objectives must be formulated SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound). Furthermore, it is necessary that preconditions and all available resources are also described. 


The second step, Do, is about the execution and realization of the approved plan. The activities and performances are continuously recorded and evaluated during the execution. Here it is important that all those involved feel the urgency to implement the policy and achieve the right results. Monitoring the activities and performances provides a better insight into the progress and what could possibly be done differently. 


The third step in the PDCA Cycle, called Check, is about comparing the results achieved with the results the company has in mind. The differences and their possible causes are examined in detail. Here, questions such as “Is the policy effective?” and “Are we achieving the desired result in this way?” are asked. 


The last step, Act, follows right after the evaluation in step 3. Here, certain measures are taken to achieve the formulated results. With the PDCA cycle, points for improvement and vulnerabilities can be properly identified. The evaluation reveals other steps that can be applied in the fourth step, Act. 


The PDCA Cycle can be applied in any sector. It can additionally be used for any process where improvement is needed. The most common processes where the PDCA Cycle is applied are such as: 

  • Improving the financial performance of a company 
  • Increasing customer satisfaction with lower costs 
  • Improving quality in various activities 


The PDCA Cycle is so strong that it combines well with various tools from the Lean world. By using other tools you will learn to work out the cycle even better and insights can be mapped out even more clearly. 


The following tools are effective in the first phase, also called the plan phase: 

5 times why 

The 5 times why method is a very effective Six Sigma tool. Toyota developed the tool for production-related problems. Meanwhile, this tool has become very popular with many companies. 

With the 5 times why tool you identify the cause of a problem by asking the why question 5 times. First of all the problem is identified, so: ‘Why did this problem arise’. The answer is a new or different problem. Next, the question “Where did this problem arise?” is answered. These steps are repeated until you get to the core, also called the root-cause, of the problem. The root cause is further elaborated in the next phase. It is common to create a mind map to visualize the analysis. 

Value Stream Mapping 

With Value Stream Mapping (VSM) a process is made fully visible and is supplemented with as much relevant data and information as possible. This results in a clear overview of how a product flows through the process and reaches the customer. Furthermore, insights are gained into all wastes and unnecessary steps that are taken in the process. 

Swim Lane Diagram 

A Swim Lane Diagram, or flowchart, distinguishes the division of labor and responsibilities for sub-processes of a large business process. This tool can be set up either horizontally or vertically. 


Well-known tools that are widely used in the Do phase: 

Increase data quality 

The quality of your data is crucial in this phase. A lot of data and information is being registered. It must be done the right way. What happens when it is disordered? Then you get unreliable information, which means that you cannot improve processes in the right way. 

Business Intelligence tools 

In the Do phase, data is collected. By using Business Intelligence tools you can easily collect, categorize and monitor a lot of data. This saves a lot of time. 


During the Check phase the collected data is monitored and adjusted where necessary. Tools that can help do this more efficiently are: 

KPI Dashboard 

Various analyses are carried out in the Check phase. From these analyses certain results follow. Do these match the KPI’s of the company? If not, how can this be efficiently adjusted? Where are things going well and where are they going wrong? By providing insight into this, good feedback can be given. 


During the discussion of the collected information, the objectives from the first phase are added. Which objective has been achieved? Which objective needs to be adjusted and which objective can be removed? There are many questions that need to be answered. 


In the Act phase improvements are made. Tests are carried out and the process is improved. The tests are monitored to see how the new objective will be achieved. Then, we look at tools such as process management. In process management, a process is redesigned. A lot of aspects come into play here which can make the final step complicated. 


Getting started with the PDCA cycle? The PDCA cycle is covered in our Lean and Green Belt training courses. Request the study guide for more information about the study programs, exams and preparation. Or contact us for customized study advice! 

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