The PDCA Cycle: A Continuous Improvement Tool to Add to Your Toolbox

Jack works as a supervisor in a plant where the processes are well established. It’s going well, but things could be better. In other words, there’s room for improvement. He’s looking for a tool to optimize operations, reduce errors, and promote continuous innovation. Oooooooh! The Groupe Bernard Gagnon team knows the perfect approach for Jack’s needs: the PDCA continuous improvement cycle. Where did this simple and effective tool originate? What is it, exactly? When should it be used? What are its advantages and disadvantages? Let’s find out!

Where does the PDCA cycle come from?

PDCA, also known as the Deming wheel, is a fundamental management tool in Lean philosophy. Based on the principle of iteration, its purpose is to control quality and improve organizational processes on an ongoing basis. Although the method is associated with Dr. William Edwards Deming, who largely contributed to its popularization, the PDCA cycle was originally developed by Walter A. Shewhart, an American physicist and statistician.

Lean management and PDCA share several key characteristics:

  • Continuous improvement: Lean focuses on continuous process improvement, reducing waste, and optimizing customer value, while the PDCA cycle provides a methodical framework for identifying, implementing, assessing, and adjusting improvements.

  • Waste elimination: Lean aims to eliminate waste (Muda) such as delays, excessive inventory, and unnecessary motion, while PDCA helps to identify and reduce waste in a structured way.

  • Lean planning: The PDCA cycle offers a planning model for undertaking Lean initiatives.

  • Standardization and repetition: Lean management insists on standardizing processes so that they are consistent and can be reproduced. PDCA helps with standardization by ensuring that changes and improvements are based on accurate data and analysis.

  • Employee mobilization: Lean management values employee involvement, mobilization, and contribution to continuous improvement. The PDCA cycle encourages participation by giving employees the opportunity to propose ideas for improvement and actively contribute to making the necessary adjustments.

What is the PDCA cycle?

PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, and Act. It’s a 4-step cycle that is used for continuous improvement. Here is a breakdown of the 4 steps:

Plan : Set goals, find solutions to achieve them, and draw up a plan that describes what needs to be done and how it will be done.

Do : Carry out the action plan.

Check : Assess what went well and what didn’t; measure the effectiveness of the actions against the goal from the “Plan” step.

Act : Adapt the strategy based on what was learned in the “check” step in order to achieve the goal. Implement measures to bring about the necessary improvements.

Since it’s a continuous improvement cycle, the loop is never-ending. At the end of the “Act” step, a new “Plan” step begins with a new goal.

When should the PDCA cycle be used?

Most companies want to improve. However, many of them have yet to make the changes needed to succeed. Bureaucracy, silos, and even organizational culture can slow down growth and innovation.

The PDCA cycle helps companies move forward and adopt a continuous improvement approach. That’s why it’s valued in many industries, including:

  • The manufacturing sector (to optimize production and supply processes, improve product quality, and reduce waste)

  • Service companies (to improve customer experience, reduce errors, and increase efficiency)

  • Healthcare (to improve quality of care and optimize administrative processes)

  • Education (to improve programs, optimize teaching processes, and promote continuous learning)

It’s used for several reasons:

  • To deploy a new optimization project

  • To solve a recurring problem

  • To launch a new product or service

  • To implement a major change, such as restructuring or adopting new technology

  • To work on continuously improving a process, the customer experience, the quality of products or services, etc.

  • To complement the Kaizen technique, which focuses on small, regular adjustments that lead to significant gains over time


By this point in the article, it should be clear that the PDCA cycle is an effective tool for improving your management processes and operations. You should also have a good idea of the situations it can be used for. That being said, there’s a difference between education and execution. Need a helping hand from continuous improvement experts to get the most out of the PDCA cycle? Contact us today.

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