Another Look at the 4 Step Deming Cycle

The folks at WordPress were kind enough to provide some data on this blog for 2010. The ranking of the top 5 posts for last year was the most interesting. Armed with that information and the knowledge that many readers did not see every post, I’ve decided to count down the top posts of last year this week starting with number 5. The following was titled “What Could Be Easier? The 4 Step Deming Cycle” and was posted in November. I hope you find it beneficial.


[tweetmeme]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. Yet they are 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 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 challenges to do it better, faster, and cheaper.

A diagram showing the PDCA Cycle. This version...

Image courtesy of Karn G. Bulsuk ( via 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?[tweetmeme]

The top four posts will be re-posted over the next several days.  Here are the other posts rounding out the top 10:

6.  Lean Goal Setting

7.  Launching 5S – The Pre-Audit

8.  The Hardest of the 5S’s – Sustain

9.  Simple 5-Why’s

10. Implementing Change

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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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4 Responses to Another Look at the 4 Step Deming Cycle

  1. It’s not a coincidence that we always say “they don’t make things like they used to” is it? Taking shortcuts is why we end up with inferior products. I believe planned obsolescence also plays a role but for the most part nowadays it does come down to manufacturing faster and cheaper.

  2. Hi Sherryl,

    Faster and cheaper is definitely a temptation in today’s competitive marketplace. It’s especially tempting for those in mature markets with less market growth. Those decisions are short sited when customer loyalty starts to erode. Thanks for your insight.


  3. Hi Christian

    You ended your post by asking “What issues are you dealing with today that warrant a PDCA?” At Toyota, we were encouraged to approach almost everything with a PDCA mindset. Even when planning a business trip Toyota encouraged performing a PDCA.

    It becomes a mantra which is drilled into you, as with this mindset, there’s a much higher chance you’ll go back to reflect and see how to do things better next time.

    Best wishes


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