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Operational Excellence: PDCA Cycle Guide

Learn about the Plan‑Do‑Check‑Act business model. Discover how the PDCA cycle works and how it can be used to enhance organizational efficiency.

Efficient business processes bring many benefits that directly impact your overall success. Enhancing efficiency improves productivity by streamlining operations and eliminating unnecessary steps, enabling employees to accomplish more in less time. This can result in increased output, faster turnaround times, and improved customer satisfaction.

Overall, efficient business processes contribute to higher profitability, improved competitiveness, and sustainable growth in the long run. But how do you enhance and refine business processes to make them more efficient and effective? The PDCA Cycle may be able to help.

But what is the PDCA cycle, and how can you use it in your business? Keep reading to learn more about the PDCA cycle, including how it works, its benefits, and when to use it.

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle is a strategic business planning methodology focusing on continuous improvement. It involves systematically planning, executing, evaluating, and refining processes to enhance efficiency, effectiveness, and overall performance within an organization.

Originally developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the PDCA cycle is also known as the Deming or Shewhart cycle. It acts as a guiding principle for organizations to achieve ongoing growth and success.

The PDCA cycle consists of four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act. Each stage of the PDCA cycle plays a crucial role in driving continuous improvement and may include different company stakeholders, such as product developers, managers, and employees, depending on the particular project or process.

Examples of the PDCA cycle

To help you understand how this process works, let's take a look at a few PDCA cycle examples:

  • Manufacturing: A manufacturing company identifies a slow section of its assembly line. They analyze the problem, develop a solution, and implement it. Then, they evaluate the results and make the necessary adjustments to eliminate the bottleneck and keep processes running smoothly.
  • Project management: A project manager wants to improve their management process. They set objectives, define project scope, and create a project schedule. Then, their team carries out various tasks and projects. After the projects are complete, the project manager reviews how they went and refines the process for the next project based on feedback from the team.
  • Product development: A business wants to create a better app interface. They plan to conduct research and design mockups before developing the new interface. Once the new interface is complete, they conduct usability testing to gather feedback and make adjustments to refine the interface based on end-user needs and preferences.

Four stages of the PDCA cycle

The PDCA cycle framework follows a four-step process. Each stage has a goal of driving quality improvement and ensuring ongoing process optimization.


The planning phase involves setting objectives, defining goals, and developing an action plan. It includes activities such as identifying problems, analyzing data, conducting research, and establishing targets.

During this phase, key considerations include understanding the current state of a process, identifying opportunities, determining the desired outcomes, and creating an action plan with specific strategies.

The PDCA process operates on a continuous feedback loop, leading back to the planning phase and creating a cycle of constant improvement.


The Do stage is where the planned activities are carried out. The focus is on implementing the strategies and actions defined in the planning phase, which may include allocating resources, assigning responsibilities, and executing the tasks outlined in the plan.


The check phase involves evaluating the results and comparing them against the set objectives and targets. This stage emphasizes the collection and analysis of relevant data, performance indicators, and metrics to assess progress.

The purpose of checking is to determine if the implemented actions have achieved the desired outcomes. By conducting thorough evaluations and checks, organizations can identify any deviations, inefficiencies, or areas that require further improvement. If you were doing usability testing, this is the stage it would take place in.


The acting stage is where adjustments, corrections, and improvements are made based on the findings from the checking phase. This phase involves taking corrective actions to address identified issues, bottlenecks, or gaps.

The act phase may include refining processes, modifying plans, realigning resources, implementing new strategies, or revising goals. Then, it all leads back to the planning phase once again.

The PDCA cycle promotes a proactive approach to problem-solving and decision-making by incorporating data analysis and using continuous loops throughout the cycle.

This iterative process allows organizations to learn from their experiences, adapt to change, and continuously improve their internal and external processes and products.

The benefits of the PDCA cycle include the following:

Continuous improvement

The PDCA cycle is centered around the concept of continuous improvement. Organizations can identify areas of improvement, implement changes, and evaluate the effectiveness of those changes. This process enables organizations to evolve and enhance their processes, products, and services over time.

Data-driven decision-making

The PDCA cycle emphasizes the collection and analysis of data during the checking phase, which includes gathering end-user or team feedback. This data-driven approach lets you make informed decisions based on objective information and insights.

By analyzing data and performance metrics, organizations can identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement.

Team collaboration

By encouraging collaborative leadership and employee engagement throughout the organization, the PDCA cycle acts as a framework for knowledge sharing. Employees can contribute their expertise towards problem-solving and improvement initiatives.

The cycle promotes team collaboration and open communication, encourages diverse perspectives, and leverages the collective intelligence of the team.

Standardization and documentation

As you implement process improvements and identify successful practices, you can standardize various processes and features.

Standardization can minimize errors while increasing efficiency. In addition, by establishing standard procedures and guidelines, organizations can achieve a higher level of quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

Organizational learning

The PDCA model facilitates an organizational culture of learning by encouraging analysis and evaluation. Through the PDCA cycle, you'll gain insights into what works well and what needs improvement.

This learning process helps build knowledge, develop expertise, and continuously refine their approaches to achieve better results.

Challenges of the PDCA cycle

While the PDCA cycle can provide your business with continuous improvement, it comes with a few challenges.

  • Lack of commitment: Many businesses struggle to commit to the PDCA cycle, rendering it ineffective. To succeed with this methodology, you need support from everyone involved.
  • Insufficient resources: You need time, money, and staff to successfully use the PDCA cycle because it requires planning, execution, evaluation, and improvement. If you don't have enough time or staff, you may not be able to achieve meaningful results.
  • Resistance to change: The PDCA cycle may mean you have to change your existing processes. If you or your employees are resistant to that change, you won't be able to adopt the new approach.
  • Not sustainable for the long-term: Because this approach requires so many resources, it may not be sustainable for most businesses in the long term. Instead, it's best used on a case-by-case basis or for single processes.

You can use the PDCA model for all your business processes, ranging from how you develop products to managing internal processes and project management. Here are a few instances when the PDCA cycle might be effective.

  • Process improvement: By following the iterative cycle, organizations can systematically identify process inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement to find and test strategies. This continual process allows organizations to continuously improve processes, enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and optimize performance.
  • Problem-solving: The PDCA cycle helps organizations break down complex problems into manageable tasks, allowing for focused analysis and tailored solutions. By incorporating data-driven decision-making and iterative adjustments based on evaluation, the PDCA cycle enables organizations to effectively identify, address, and solve problems.
  • Project management: By setting clear project objectives, developing comprehensive plans, monitoring progress, and identifying areas for improvement, project managers can enhance project performance, ensure effective resource allocation, and drive continuous improvement throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Risk mitigation: With the PDCA cycle, businesses can plan and implement risk mitigation strategies, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies, and make necessary adjustments based on the evaluation. By following the PDCA cycle, organizations can proactively manage and minimize risks, enhancing their ability to protect assets and avoid potential pitfalls.
  • Product development: The PDCA cycle can be used as a product management framework. Following the PDCA model, businesses can define product requirements, execute the development process, evaluate the product's performance and customer feedback, and make necessary adjustments. This process leads to better design, enhanced features, and more satisfied customers.

Integrate the PDCA cycle into your business processes

Integrating the PDCA cycle into your business processes can bring significant benefits and drive continuous improvement. By embracing this structured and continuous approach, organizations can enhance their efficiency, effectiveness, and overall performance.

Try the PDCA cycle with Mailchimp. With robust features and functionality, Mailchimp's sales CRM allows users to plan sales strategies, execute activities, track customer interactions, and evaluate results within the PDCA framework.

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