What Could Be Easier? The 4 Step Deming Cycle

Plan – Do – Check – Act

That’s not asking a lot, is it?  You have just implemented a big change that should save your company a lot of time and money.  A little follow-up to make sure everything is going as planned is common sense.  What could be easier than to check to see how it’s going, right?

Then why is it that so many leaders get caught in the Silly Cycle?

We have all been there.  It seems that there are more and more demands placed on manufacturing plants every day. The same is true for other work places. Not only are today’s leaders expected to do more with less.  They are also expected to do it better, faster, and cheaper than last year. Sound familiar? It’s no wonder that it’s difficult to find time to properly plan and even harder to follow through on everything that crosses a leader’s desk. But if you don’t plan and you don’t follow-up, all you do is Do, Do, and Do.

This really is not a new problem.  While I believe that these are particularly tough times, leaders have always been challenged to do it better, faster, and cheaper.

English: A diagram showing the PDCA Cycle. Thi...

English: A diagram showing the PDCA Cycle. This version was designed for everyone to view, since not everyone has the ability to use and manipulate a SVG file. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, the Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle goes back to the 1930’s when Walter Shewhart developed PDCA.  Dr. Edwards Deming made it famous with his work in the 1950’s.  While the PDCA is often called the Deming Cycle, he referred to it as the Shewhart cycle.

While it isn’t easy to find the time, following the PDCA cycle will yield better results and sustained improvements.  The basic steps are:

  • Plan: Define, measure, and analyze.  Define the scope of the project.  Assess the current state.  Measure and benchmark so you know where you are starting. Analyze the root causes and consider your options.
  • Do: Implement your plan.  Over communicate.  Start with a pilot or test area.  That way you can learn lessons from the implementation on a small-scale.  No matter how easy your idea sounds, there will probably be some unexpected issues.
  • Check: Follow up on the results.  See if the plan is being implemented as you expected.  Get feedback to see how the plan can be improved.
  • Act: Standardize your improvements.  Plan for Continuous Improvement.  Build systems so that the improvements can be sustained.

Taking the time to plan, check, and act will pay dividends. You  have already seen where skipping those steps takes you.  You don’t have time to solve everything today.  Pick one and start there.  What issues are you dealing with today that warrant a PDCA?

Take a look at One More Reason to do a PDCA.

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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26 Responses to What Could Be Easier? The 4 Step Deming Cycle

  1. Plan – Do – Check – Act…….. This is something we should all be doing Christian. It does take time but it keeps us on track and from spinning our wheels! I may no longer be in manufacturing (a blessing to me) but even the entrepreneur working from home should take this solid advice. 🙂

  2. Thanks Sherryl-That’s a great idea. I’ll need to apply this at my consulting business as well as on the road with clients.


  3. But I so LOVE the Do-Do-Do-Do graphic! I want it for my fridge. Y’know why? Because my brilliant daughter will then come out and create a brilliant Don’t-Don’t-Don’t-Don’t one that will crack us all up with laughter. (Yes, the arrows will all run the other way, or every which way!)

  4. shilpa says:

    I recently used this for a white paper I was working on. I mean PDCA is a simple concept and can be applied pretty much anywhere.

  5. Just beacuse it is simple on one hand, lean beginners or CIP-starters struggle with the A mostly. Why shall I do it again ? We have seen improvements-the project is finished
    At least I had this experience quiet some time-just as initial comments from the audience…..at the end of a CIP-workshop they definitely understand much better.

  6. Pingback: Great Post – The Silly Cycle « Lean Is Good

  7. Mark Welch says:

    One thing I like to tell my trainees is that we’re trying to teach, “Ready, aim, fire.” Not “Fire, ready, aim.”

    Also, the PDCA cycle is indigenous to healthcare, the field in which I work. When I explain to caregivers and other staff that there is a reason why doctors run tests, ask questions, and examine the patient before recommending a course of action, PDCA begins to click with them. The hard part, though, is always skipping the Plan phase – jumping to solutions. Trying to get people to gather data on their processes and analyzing root causes is nearly impossible with some colleagues. They just want their problem solved… NOW. They don’t want to take the time to truly understand it. Very frustrating. If anyone out there has more suggestions on this I’m all ears.

    • Mark,

      Time & patience, or a lack there of are enemies of good long term solutions to many issues. While it’s easier said than done, taking the time to do it right is more efficient with one’s time compared to revisiting the same problem over and over when shooting from the hip doesn’t work. This reminds me of the John Wooden quote: If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again? My response to those who want everything fixed today would be that you can’t tackle everything at once but having the discipline to find the root cause and address one problem today will reduce the fires you have to fight in the future. Again, easier said than done.

      Here are a couple links to other posts that might help:

      http://wp.me/pZiRD-4A (Putting 1st things 1st)
      http://wp.me/pZiRD-gH (Reasons to do a DMAIC)
      http://wp.me/pZiRD-hs (Steps to a DMAIC)

      I hope this helps. Thanks for your comments.


    • Hi Mark,
      You raised a good point on the way people see problem/pain/symptoms .
      I guess,going for solution without taking time define problem and validating it with some data is business as usual for most people.
      I’ve always enjoyed checking the improvement implemented before teaching them PDCA.

  8. In my opinion the PDCA is a simple but a very effective tool in the hands of managers who are skilled, motivated and goal oriented. The steps plan do check act should be seen from a different perspective as done before: business intelligence and a organizational culture that is focussed on quality and performance improvement. Managers should be set norms and targets (plan), analyse the information for taking action and innovation (do), discuss the figures on the dashboard with team members and their boss (check) and adjust norms and targets (act). This is the most difficult part when implementing the PDCA spiral.

    • Tom,

      Thank you for joining the discussion. Your comments are insightful and helpful. The PDCA cycle is simple enough in theory. The trick is to recognize it, do it, and to see how to make those adjustments.

      Thanks again,

  9. Aaron Schultz says:

    The world is full of caught phases. At my company we use a approach called CAP Do. Which is Check, Act, Plan, Do. This can be confusing to those we try to train. I should say that I trust Demings over however made ours.

    • Aaron,

      The CAP Do process is solid as well and as you suggest it seems to have its roots in Deming’s PDCA cycle. The DMAIC is another solid technique that is closely related. The PDCA seems most prevalent in the Lean / TQM circles, CAP Do is common in TPM plants like yours, and you’ll see the DMAIC in Six Sigma arenas. There is a lot of overlap though and I’ve seen DMAIC being taught in TPM climates as well. Thanks for your comments.


    • Aaron,
      Its interesting to see how you use CAPD, it does make sense to use it during post production stage.
      1)Check and Act to take immediate corrective action
      2)Plan and DO to build up preventive / assurance program.

      Thanks Arron.

  10. Pingback: Just a Little Faith | Christian Leanings

  11. interestingly, In later life they changed PDCA to PDSA: Check became Study, as Check was misunderstood (a tick in a box), whereas Study was explaining much better the activity that should take place at this point. When we teach this, we explain the reasoning behind it. it create enlightenment.
    When you read Nolan and Provost, The improvement guide it explains a very powerful model related to this.
    Act then becomes three options: Accept, Abandon, Amend, which give people an enourmous amount of freedom and relieves the pressure that may be put upon them that they always feel they have to go for Accept.

    • That’s very interesting. Study definitely puts a stronger emphasis on that particular step. I recall attending a 3 day workshop back in the Total Quality Management days. They were teaching a great technique and credited Deming’s cycle. They too referred to it as PDSA. I noticed this while reading through some of those materials several weeks ago and thought it was just their interpretation (i.e. building on a good thing). Now I know…..As for the 3 A’s, Amend is probably the option that is needed most often when a team gets to the Check or Study step. I wonder how often Abandon is chosen by default do to neglect. Sustaining can be the most difficult part of improvements when leaders get caught up in the other pressing matters.

      Thank you for your insight.


  12. Agustin Lopez says:

    Cristian, your article is good, the PDCA have been there for so many years, so why a big portion of the Industry is still strugeling with problem solving, is the PDCA not so clear to get it understood or has to be reinforced with soemother tools that makes the PDCA a real helping cycle.

    • Agustin,

      Thanks for the feedback. I believe that people struggle with problem solving for a hand-full of reasons. Some don’t understand the importance of follow-up (Check) or expect too much from the initial action (Do). Many walk away from the issue once a countermeasure is in place because they think the problem is solved. They don’t realize the the solution could be flawed, difficult to implement, or not be the best idea. Others have too much on their plate and want to follow up but don’t get to it enough. In any case, they don’t enjoy the full benefit of the process and are unable to see the power of Continuous Improvement.

      Can anyone add other reasons?

      Great question!


  13. Don’t discount out the human willingness as one factor hindering Continuous Improvement. Business may have desire to improve, however if the absent of willingness to do what is needed the 1st time right will stop the progress of continuous improvement.

    • You are right. People make it happen and without the proper motivation, they don’t do as much to make it happen. That’s one of the reasons why “respect of the individual” is one of the pillars of Lean Manufacturing. Treating people right and getting them properly engaged does wonders for their desire to help.

  14. Hi Chris, just wanted to share my recent experience on managing people with other readers.
    My manager took over a 30 staff from previous mgmt (change of reporting manager).

    The first thing he does was to give assurance that nothing will change at low level of operation, he focus alot of his time with team leader on understanding business goal and empowered them with freedom to lead and manage their resources.

    In two months, we are hearing people offering help and want to be part of new culture. Simple thought and preaching of ” People 1st problem 2nd ” has made the operation a happy working place.

  15. Pingback: Half of Your Team is About to Quit….12 things to do about it | My Flexible Pencil

  16. Pingback: Many Lean Manufacturing Consultants need to Understand DMAIC Learn Now

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