Economics/Business

PDCA definition Steps of cycle benefits relationship 5W2H & PDCA

The definition of PDCA is a management method focused on continuous improvement of processes that is based on planning, executing, checking and acting; steps that help identify problems and their causes and define solutions.

Whether at the head of a small or large company, every manager knows that he or she needs to look for ways to control, maintain or improve the efficiency of internal processes. Something that brings us to the PDCA cycle. What do you know about it?

PDCA is a management method or tool that can be applied in companies of any nature, favoring the achievement of goals and even problem solving.

In this post, you will find enough information about PDCA to assess whether this is a method you want to adopt in your company, including knowing how to associate it with another widely used management methodology, 5W2H. Continue reading and find out more!

what is PDCA

The PDCA cycle is a management method whose premise is to improve your company’s processes. To do so, it has four steps: Plan or Plan, Do or Execute, Check or Verify and ct or Act.

This method is also called the Shewhart Cycle or the Deming Cycle. That’s because it was created by the American engineer Walter Shewhart, in 1920, having gained fame only from 1950, in Japan, thanks to the American professor William Deming.

Shewhart is even known as “the father of modern quality control”, while Deming is seen as the “father of the evolution of quality”. Talking about this is more than presenting a simple curiosity because, initially, the PDCA was developed precisely to guide the administration of the quality of a company’s management.

Gradually, its use was improved and adapted to corporate demands. Therefore, the PDCA method is used today to guarantee a continuous improvement of a company’s processes, aiming at factors such as the quality of products or services, as well as the achievement of goals or the solution of problems.

It is worth mentioning that the word “cycle” is not used without reason. We speak of the PDCA cycle because it is understood that the methodology is based on repetition and must be applied continuously to guarantee the achievement of results.

It is for this reason that you, as a manager, need to know the methodology well, its steps and benefits to know how to apply it and what to expect from this application. Once adopted, the ideal is for the PDCA to become part of your company ‘s modus operandi .

The steps of the PDCA cycle

To talk about the steps of the PDCA cycle, you first need to know what we mean when we talk about troubleshooting. In a company, a problem is not just a setback that came about unforeseen, but also something that is already part of the routine, but doesn’t work well.

Therefore, an internal process that flows poorly or that does not lead to good results can also be understood as a problem to be solved. Something that equates to the idea of ​​process improvement already mentioned in this post and that is relevant to everyday life and not just in isolated or occasional cases.

This clarification is important to avoid doubts in understanding the PDCA method, its operation and its cycles. That’s because the objective behind this tool is to understand how a problem arises and, from there, understand how to solve it.

Therefore, the PDCA focuses on the cause of the problem and not on its consequences. If we were to translate this idea through jargon, we would resort to “nipping the problem in the bud” because the search for quality in processes does not focus on palliative solutions, but on those that correct the problem at its source.

With this, once the cause of the problem is understood leading to the understanding of how to promote changes, the improvement plan needs to be put into action.

Basically, what we have is the following: first, we need to identify that something is wrong, that there is a difficulty. Then, it is necessary to locate the problem, that is, what generates this difficulty. Then, one must define the problem, suggest and apply solutions and observe the results to, if necessary, adjust them.

Following the PDCA cycle, the steps start with planning and lead us to this sequence:

Plan

The “plan” stage, which corresponds to planning, is the heart of the PDCA strategy and involves the identification and observation of the problem, its analysis and the definition of an action plan. Look:

  • Identify and observe the problem

It all starts with identifying the problem. This involves questioning what is going on, how long it has been going on and what are the consequences brought about by this problem.

To do so, it is possible to resort to feedback from employees who are affected by the problem or who end up having to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. Reports and other tools that provide a clear idea of ​​the impacts of the problem are also welcome.

Gathering information that is useful for a clear understanding of the situation begins the task of observing the problem and trying to understand it better.

In general, PDCA is applied because of problems that are difficult to identify or solve. Thus, as mentioned earlier, it is a method that applies to everyday life and not only to occasional setbacks that easily draw attention.

  • analyze the problem

Analyzing the problem is trying to find out why it is happening. With that, we’re back to the fact that in the PDCA cycle, the focus is on the cause of the problem — which serves as a reminder to pay attention to cause-and-effect relationships.

Problem analysis involves determining the relevance of each of its causes, which serves to define which one or which are the main ones and, consequently, which ones should be considered in search of solutions.

It is this knowledge that allows the planning of changes based on the objectives pursued and the processes that must be applied to achieve them.

  • plan action

Once you know what the problem is, how it affects the company and what its causes are, you will be able to plan what to do to solve it. Or, better said, to eliminate what causes the problem to happen.

For this step, the 5W2H methodology can be a great ally and, for this reason, we will talk more about it in detail later. 

DO or Execute 

As it should be, at this stage of the PDCA cycle, planning is put into practice.

It must be borne in mind that the execution of the plan must also be planned. This means that it is up to the manager and the leaders involved to select who will be the professionals involved in each process and prepare them.

Depending on the type of problem and its relevance, even formal training may be necessary to ensure that the execution goes according to plan. This can even be fundamental to ensure that the application of the PDCA works well;

Check or Verify

The verification or verification proposed by the PDCA can be done while the plan is in progress or at the end. The most interesting thing can be doing both.

As a manager, you probably already know that adopting a management method involves measuring results. With this in mind, this stage of the PDCA aims to verify that everything is going well and that the measures adopted are correcting the problem and leading to the achievement of objectives.

The comparison of results before x after is part of the verification that is suggested by the PDCA and it is a crucial follow-up for the success of the method.

If the results achieved are not satisfactory, it is recommended to return to the planning stage, making the necessary adjustments to correct any failures.

Act again

Finally, in this last stage of the PDCA, the practical developments must be analyzed in order to standardize the processes and the next steps must be planned.

This brings the company back to the “plan” and illustrates why we speak of a cycle when referring to this method. So what we have is the following:

  • standardize the process

Considering the developments of the PDCA cycle in question, it is necessary to highlight the positive results achieved and reflect on the process that allowed these achievements.

It is important to do this because the company must standardize this process in order to continue with the results, that is, to continue ensuring that the goals are achieved.

This standardization is something that must be done in an official way. A document ― such as a manual, a guide or an announcement ― can be formulated and distributed through the company’s communication channels.

The objective is to ensure that employees know how to perform their tasks in order to continue improving processes and, consequently, the quality of the products or services offered by the company.

  • Review and new steps

It is also important that what did not work well be highlighted and discussed. Negative results, as well as positive ones, should be documented accompanied by lessons learned that may be useful in the future.

This is a comprehensive results analysis step that should include team performance.

Correcting failures, adjusting communication or training and execution should be among the goals for the company to increase its chances that the corrected problem does not happen again.

It is also worth considering that from this review of the PDCA cycle, new problems can be identified for which the application of the method is valid, giving rise to a new cycle.

The benefits of the PDCA method

PDCA is simple, but that doesn’t mean its adoption is easy. When faced with a tool like this, many managers end up preferring to live by “putting out fires”, giving up a more laborious process that could add more value to the company.

There are other management methods that you can resort to, but for you to better understand the validity of the PDCA, here are some associated benefits:

Facilitates decision making

Faced with a problem, a manager needs to be able to guide his leadership, or his employees directly, on how to act considering what measures to implement and how to do it.

As a method focused on understanding the problem and its causes, PDCA has the advantage of taking the company manager to know the root of the problem. Something that avoids assumptions and better directs ideas for decision making.

Prevent bad solutions from being implemented

The process of understanding the problem goes through the analysis of information, as already explained. This foundation contributes to making decisions more practical and accurate and not just those that seem to be the most appropriate.

As a consequence, the PDCA cycle prevents bad solutions from being implemented, resulting in wasted time and even resources. In other words, we can say that the method favors the effectiveness of the solutions, as well as the processes associated with them.

Favors continuous improvement

The PDCA is cyclic, that is, it ends up opening the way for its own continuity. Something that happens in the stage of analyzing the results that were not negative to identify if or what new changes need to be planned and applied.

With that, the company wins multiple times and not just once, because it has the opportunity to improve its processes and results cycle after cycle. In this regard, the warning only goes so that the company avoids getting caught up in unimportant issues.

Of course, what still doesn’t go well needs adjustments, but it’s worth looking for a broad view of the scenario before starting a new click. That way, you make sure you don’t devote time, planning, and resources to solving a problem that is less significant than others that demand more attention.

Furthermore, this continuity also applies to the accumulation of knowledge or know-how of the company and its employees. Managers who value their human capital like to count on professionals who are always developing and, if this is your case, know that the adoption of PDCA contributes to this.

Opportunities to improve teamwork

The adoption of the PDCA cycle is a decision of the manager, but there are other company figures that must be involved in the process. Leaders and their subordinates are crucial to identifying, observing and analyzing a problem, as well as implementing a plan and its results.

With all this, PDCA demands collaboration and teamwork, and can even contribute to improving communication and the ability to solve problems together.

Presents effective and well-defined processes

The PDCA implementation process may not be agile, mainly considering the planning stage. However, once the plan is drawn up and implemented, new processes or a new way of conducting the company’s processes are presented.

Considering that they are well-structured processes, the tendency is that they are also clear and effective. Something that contributes to the routine of the company, as well as to its results.

It favors internal communication

The PDCA favors the improvement of internal communication and this happens because the application of the method depends on the exchange of information.

Employees need to help identify problems, leaders need to guide the planning to be followed and management needs to make sure that everyone knows the new processes to be followed.

With this, PDCA is a “little push for good” for your company to improve its communication.

Allows loss reduction

When a problem is identified, something needs to be done to correct it, or at least to contain its consequences. Of course, adopting a bad solution—or even failing to apply PDCA—can generate bad results and lead to losses.

To avoid this problem, first of all, it is necessary to commit to following the steps of the PDCA cycle correctly, especially planning. 

In addition, it is good to know that the method can be applied on a small scale as a form of testing, something that allows you and your leaders to get to know PDCA better and know what to do to successfully apply the cycle on a large scale.

With this, it becomes possible to avoid possible losses that result from failures in adopting the PDCA for the first time or in a situation different from what one is used to.

Once the small-scale application is successful, you can expand PDCA process by process or at whatever pace suits the business.

Has unlimited application

PDCA is a method that can be used by small, medium and large companies. It serves producers and service providers, regardless of the nature of their activities.

Still, the PDCA can be applied in different spheres or departments of the company. As a result, you don’t need to look for several different management methods for process optimization.

The relationship of the 5W2H with the PDCA

When we say that, with PDCA, you don’t need to rely on several other management methods, we are not saying that the others become invalid. In fact, the understanding is that the PDCA cycle can be your main tool which, in turn, can be anchored by others.

Earlier, even when we explained the planning stage, we mentioned that after identifying, observing and analyzing the problem, the definition of the action plan could rely on 5W2H.

5W2H is a simple management tool that helps the development of projects, such as the action plan proposed by the PDCA. The acronym corresponds to questions that translate as follows:

  • What or What? What action should be taken;
  • Why or Why? Why is this action necessary or why is it the most appropriate action ;
  • When or When? When the action will be performed and for how long;
  • W here or Where? Where the action plan will be carried out;
  • Who or Who? Which person(s) are responsible for each action, who are involved;
  • How or How? How each action should be performed, that is, what are the “steps” to be applied;
  • How much or How much? What will be the cost of each action, a question that aims to attest to the validity of the plan based on the possibilities of the company.

Do you see how 5W2H can contribute to making the planning of the PDCA cycle solid, clear and strategic? That’s why the methods are related.

To answer 5W2H’s questions it is important to keep in mind the company’s vision, mission, values ​​and internal policy. Thus, it is ensured that the planning results in something that makes sense within the organization and that can be replicated or extended to different processes and sectors.

When to choose the PDCA method

Now that you know what PDCA is, what its steps and benefits are, you should already understand that the method can be adopted in different circumstances, facing simpler problems or those that are more complex.

To choose this method, you need to keep in mind that your objective is to optimize a work process or improve the quality of what is done. Both have, as a consequence, improved results.

If your company suffers from high turnover , for example, the PDCA can be implemented to find out why so many employees leave their jobs and how to adopt solutions to correct this problem.

If, in turn, it is production that is not delivering the goods sold by the company on time, PDCA can also be implemented to correct failures and optimize the end-to-end process.

In any case, the important thing is to keep in mind that the company needs to be willing and committed to face the PDCA. We hit the planning key because, as the strategic heart of the method, if it is poorly executed, everything goes down the drain.

Thus, it is advisable to adopt the PDCA cycle when there is availability for data collection and analysis, brainstorming and debates to develop an action plan focused on the cause of each problem.

Tips for using PDCA in your business

With that in mind, here are some simple and fundamental tips so you can successfully use PDCA in your company. Follow:

  • Respect the time of each step

The complexity of applying the PDCA will vary according to the complexity of the problem to be solved or the process being improved. In any case, it is important not to skip steps or waste time.

As we have said repeatedly, planning is a step that naturally takes more time. Those companies that ignore or underestimate the importance of following this step carefully are wrong and those that do their best to structure each step forward are the ones who win.

On the other hand, companies that take too long to start executing their plan are wrong and those that make the most of the moment win. This is because, no matter how well done a plan is, once it is left for later it starts to deteriorate.

If your company takes too long to put the action plan into practice, leaders may have difficulty understanding the step by step to be followed. Something that can cause a domino effect capable of compromising the result as a whole.

  • Embrace the idea of ​​continuous improvement

Are you in the group of those who prefer to do only what is really necessary? It’s true that you don’t need to make adjustments in departments or processes that are flowing super well, but the recommendation is that you don’t settle down after finishing your first PDCA cycle.

A company that seeks ways to improve its processes today may identify, tomorrow, that it already has the conditions to take a process that was going well before to another level.

What we mean is, don’t get hung up on unnecessary changes, but allow PDCA to be part of the company’s strategy and embrace the idea of ​​continuous improvement.

  • Create documents, but focus on results

The formalization of processes and the creation of supporting documents is very important for the success of the PDCA as a strategy. However, it’s vital that your business doesn’t get lost at this point and end up losing focus.

Those who seek management methods end up learning, in practice, the value of reports, graphs, infographics and others. However, it is not advisable to spend too much time generating this type of document and forget about searching for results.

Sometimes, a smaller volume of documents can be enough for analyzes to be carried out and decisions to be made safely and effectively. Having different charts and over-the-top reports to say the same thing isn’t going to help.

  • Understand the importance of data

Bearing in mind the previous tip, it is worth reinforcing the idea that even if you do not have to generate a high volume of documents, you should not underestimate the importance of data. The same goes for facts that are properly documented.

Some business processes can be quite complex. In order for the understanding of related problems and their causes, as well as the definition of the action plan to happen as desired, information is valuable.

So don’t have dozens of worksheets, but make sure you have up-to-date worksheets. Likewise, ensure that reports contain reliable information.

Therefore, it may be interesting to bet on the adoption of management tools or, if you already have them, seek to know them to take advantage of their data collection and analysis features.

  • Track, measure, analyze and evolve

With that in mind, know that measurement is critical to the PDCA cycle. As the plan is executed and at the end of each cycle, it is important to have tools that allow you to collect data and analyze points of improvement and also what went wrong.

Without this, it will be difficult to feed the next cycles and have the necessary foundation for the adoption of this method to lead to the desired results.

Managing processes can be challenging and there is no silver bullet for achieving good results. Adopting a method like PDCA requires an understanding of what can be done, how to conduct each step, and, ultimately, a commitment to moving each cycle forward, one after the other.

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