Using the PDCA Cycle to Support Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

by Nawras Skhmot

5th August 2017

PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is an iterative, four-stage approach for continually improving processes, products or services, and for resolving problems. It involves systematically testing possible solutions, assessing the results, and implementing the ones that have shown to work. It is based on the scientific method of problem-solving and was popularized by Dr W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the father of modern quality control.

The PDCA Cycle provides a simple and effective approach for solving problems and managing change. It enables businesses to develop hypotheses about what needs to change, test these hypotheses in a continuous feedback loop, and gain valuable learning and knowledge. It promotes testing improvements on a small scale before updating company-wide procedures and work methods. The PDCA cycle consists of four components:

Plan – Identify the problem, collect relevant data, and understand the problem's root cause, develop hypotheses about what the issues may be, and decide which one to test.

Do – Develop and implement a solution; decide upon a measurement to gauge its effectiveness, test the potential solution, and measure the results.

Check – Confirm the results through before-and-after data comparison. Study the result, measure effectiveness, and decide whether the hypothesis is supported or not.

Act – Document the results, inform others about process changes, and make recommendations for the future PDCA cycles. If the solution was successful, implement it. If not, tackle the next problem and repeat the PDCA cycle again.

In the next section we will dive deeper into each of these four steps. Afterwards we will discuss how the PDCA cycle can support Kaizen and continuous improvement.

PDCA Cycle


"Plan" is really a three-step process. The first step is the identification of the problem. The second step is an analysis of this problem. The third step is the development of an experiment to test it. Some of the things to consider during this process includes:

Problem Identification

  • Is this the right problem to work on?
  • Is this problem important and impactful for the organization?
  • Who does the problem affect and what is the potential impact of solving it?

Problem Analysis

  • What is the requisite information needed to fully understand the problem and its root cause?
  • What data do we already have related to the problem? What data do we need to collect?
  • Who should be enlisted or interviewed to better understand the problem?
  • After understanding the problem, is it feasible to solve it? Will the solution be economical and practical?

Developing an Experiment

  • What are some viable solutions?
  • Who will be involved in the process and who will be responsible for it?
  • What is the expected outcome of the experiment and how can we measure performance?
  • What are the resources necessary to run a small scale experiment?
  • How will the results from the small scale experiment translate to a full-fledged implementation?


The “Do” stage is where we test the proposed solutions or changes. Ideally, this should be carried out on small-scale studies. Small-scale experiments allow us to learn quickly, adjust as needed, and are typically less expensive to undertake. Make sure that you measure the performance and collect the data necessary to make an evaluation later on.


In this stage, review the experiment, analyze the results, and identify what you’ve learned. Consider the following questions:

  • Did the implementation of the change achieve the desired results?
  • What did not work?
  • What was learned from the implementation?
  • Is there enough data to show that the change was effective?
  • Do you need to run another experiment?
  • How does the small scale experiment measure up to the larger picture?
  • Is the proposed solution still viable and practical?


In this stage, take action based on what you learned in the study. If the change did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you have learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you have learned to plan new improvements and start the cycle again. If your plan worked, you will need to standardize the process and implement it across the business. During this phase of the PDCA cycle, you should ask the following questions:

  • What resources are needed to implement the solution company-wide?
  • What kind of training is needed for full implementation of the improvement?
  • How can the change be maintained and sustained?
  • How can we measure and monitor the impact of the solution?
  • What are some other areas of improvement?
  • How can we use what we have learned in this experiment to devise other experiments?

Using the PDCA Cycle to Support Kaizen

The PDCA process supports both the principles and practice of continuous improvement and Kaizen. Kaizen focuses on applying small, daily changes that result in major improvements over time. The PDCA Cycle provides a framework and structure for identifying improvement opportunities and evaluating them objectively.

Using PDCA, an organization undergoing continuous improvement can create a culture of problem solvers and critical thinkers. Improvement ideas can be rigorously tested on a small scale. Using data, the team can make adjustments to the solution and reassess the hypothesis. After an idea has been shown to be effective, it can be standardized and implemented companywide. The iterative process of the PDCA cycle enables ideas to be continuously tested and promotes a continuous improvement and continuous learning culture.

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Nawras Skhmot, is a Norwegian civil engineer and entrepreneur with an educational background from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and UC Berkeley. He is currently working on applying Lean Construction in the Norwegian construction industry, in addition to be involved in several startups that aims to develop softwares and applications based on lean thinking.