The PDCA Cycle

Introduce continuous improvement into your business with the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle.

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What is the PDCA Cycle?

The PDCA cycle is at the heart of all ISO standards, including ISO 9001 Quality Management, ISO 14001 Environmental Management, ISO 45001 Occupational Health & Safety and ISO 27001 Information Security Management.

First proposed by American statistician Walter Shewhart and subsequently developed by fellow American William Deming, the PDCA cycle is essentially a four-step project planning model for ensuring change is carried out within an organisation regularly and correctly. The PDCA cycle consists of the following key steps: Plan, Do, Check, Act

The PDCA cycle’s flexibility means it’s suitable for entire projects or for the smaller tasks within. And because it’s a continuous circle, the cycle can be endlessly repeated to ensure standards across your business are continuously being met and improved.

Once you’ve obtained ISO certification, to ensure your audits are successful each year, your business will need to prove that it meets the requirements of whatever standard you wish to be certified to.  PDCA can help do this by not only demonstrating continuous improvement, but also by highlighting any areas which need to be addressed.

When to use the PDCA Cycle

  • The start of a new improvement project

  • When implementing any change across your business

  • When you begin or improve development of a service, product, or process within your organisation

  • When working to continuously improve areas across your business

  • When planning any data collection that may be needed to identify, verify and prioritise issues across your organisation

PDCA In Detail

Key Stages of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle

This is the first stage of your PDCA cycle and involves creating a framework from which the rest of your project operates. It equates to Clause 6: Planning in your ISO standard. You may choose to take a step back, think about where your business currently is and where it needs to be and decide what needs to be done. If you’ve decided that your business needs an ISO standard such as ISO 9001 for example, this stage is where you need to read and understand the requirements of the standard so you can prepare to implement your Quality Management System and also how you maintain it so that your certification can be maintained.

During this stage it’s vital that you identify any risks that could impact your business as part of implementing the project. Try to think about both large and small risks and what consequences these could have on your business, and also consider what needs to be implemented to mitigate any loss.

Finally, the planning stage should include the goals which need to be achieved, in addition to showing the best ways of meeting them.

Common questions asked during the planning stage are:

What is the core problem that needs to be solved?

What resources are needed to overcome the problem?

What resources are currently available?

What’s the best solution currently available?

What are the goals/objectives?

This is the stage when your plan is executed. It equates to Clause 7: Support and Clause 8: Operation in ISO standards. It’s important to ensure all your employees have the correct training and equipment needed to implement the plan to the best of their ability. You may find it easier to break this stage down into smaller steps, such as staff training, implementation, and finally insight recording for any future evaluations.

During this stage, which equates to Clause 9: Performance Evaluation, it’s vital to ensure that your plan has been implemented as originally designed. In the process of auditing, it’s imperative that you document everything you can so that you have the evidence needed in case you need to make amends during the final stage – and to provide evidence to the auditor.

The final stage of the PDCA cycle is where you review the successes and failures you’ve encountered and learn how to improve going forward. It equates to Clause 10: Improvement. The evidence you have gathered during the check stage is important here, and in order to obtain and maintain ISO certification, you’ll need to show during this stage that you’re implementing any findings and improvements to ensure you achieve continuous improvement.

Benefits of the PDCA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is repetitive by nature, and allows your business to:

  • Stimulate continuous improvement – a key principle at the heart of all ISO standards

  • Prevent recurring mistakes

  • Test a range of possible solutions and scenarios in a controlled environment

  • Improve productivity and efficiency

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