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The PDCA cycle: More success with the Deming cycle


Whether you are an employer, employee or self-employed, everyone wants to do their job as efficiently as possible. Increased productivity not only ensures higher profits but can also improve personal satisfaction. Increasing productivity is a continuous process. You can keep working to improve processes: an everlasting cycle if you put your mind to it.

The physicist Walter Andrew Shewhart already had this insight in the 1930s. He developed a cyclical method for quality assurance. His student William Edwards Deming refined the theory, which is why we often speak of the Deming cycle today. Others are most familiar with the expression PDCA cycle: the sequence of Plan, Do, Check and Act.

The overall goal is to learn continuously. This is why the PDCA cycle can be applied in so many ways: Management can benefit from the circular model, and work processes in manufacturing or in everyday office life become more efficient, but also the life of each individual can benefit from the application of the Deming circle.


  • PDCA cycle - a definition

  • PDCA process: Plan, Do, Check, Act

  • Advantages and disadvantages of the PDCA cycle


The PCDA cycle was designed to establish a continuous process improvement model: Quality Assurance that is efficient and continuous. However, the model can be applied in a wide range of contexts, especially with Deming's extensions. Behind the PDCA cycle is a model that is useful for any learning process and improvement.

It follows the four steps Plan, Do, Check, Act: Plan, Implement, Check, Act. This can be applied to work processes as well as to the resulting products and services, but also to the people themselves. The PDCA cycle helps, for example, to improve teamwork as well as the stability of a sales item.

The PDCA cycle is a popular tool in the implementation of a continuous improvement process (CIP). Such a way of thinking assumes that a company has to keep improving in order to survive in the market against the competition. The Deming cycle serves as a concrete plan on how to implement the idea of CIP.

The PDCA cycle has many similarities with the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen as well as the ideas behind Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, which are mainly known in software development.


The model is divided into four phases that form a circular, repetitive process.


You start with a planning phase: What problems have been identified and how should they best be tackled? The first step is to establish the current situation. This is done by outlining the problem so that one can then determine exactly how the goal should be implemented. This also includes concretely planning the required resources. Here, too, the current state is first determined and then scaled to determine what additional resources are needed.

Finally, the team must also agree on success factors. What has to happen for the change to be considered successful? Only if you have defined the goals concretely enough can you measure whether you have achieved an acceptable result. This includes choosing goals that are realistically achievable. There is no point in defining utopian achievements that cannot be realised in a reasonable time frame and with a reasonable amount of effort anyway.


After planning, the implementation phase begins. The team or the individual now realises what he or she set out to do in the first phase. It is best to proceed in small steps and to question the implementation again and again. In this way, you can ensure that you do not lose control during implementation and that you stick to the plan. In addition, it has proven successful in practice to first test the change process on a small scale - e.g. first on one product and not on the entire range, or only in one department and not in the entire company.

Therefore, this second step can also be regarded as a test phase. You use this time to gather insights: Just because you have planned something properly does not necessarily mean that it will work in practice. The experience gained in the Do phase directly introduces the third phase.


In the check phase, you compare the results you have gathered with the goals you have set. You look critically at what worked well and what went differently than expected. It is important to look objectively at the plan and its implementation. It does not help the improvement process to gloss over the results just so as not to jeopardise one's own strategy. Problems in the Do phase should not be seen as setbacks, but as opportunities to learn from them - because that is what this phase is for.

In the check phase, we not only sum up but also analyse: What was the reason that everything did not go according to plan? Once you have found out how the problems came about, you can change the plan accordingly and achieve better results next time.


Now that the problems are known and the causes have been identified, the plan can be adjusted and finally implemented. While the Do phase was a test run and was carried out on a small scale, the fourth step covers the big picture. Depending on the framework in which one uses the PDCA cycle, one expands the application.

Once the transformation has been completed, the new state is considered the standard. One should not leave this quality level downwards. That's why you also have to install a form of control. One can question oneself again and again and make sure that one does not fall back into old patterns; someone else - a mentor, a superior, etc. - can also take over this control function. It is important for further development that one does not regress again. From the new actual state, the PDCA cycle starts again.


PDCA is a wonderful tool for introducing improvements in a sustainable and thoughtful way. Instead of changing habitual processes in a spontaneous rush, one proceeds with small steps and always under close observation. But this is also one of the big disadvantages of the Deming circle: you have to plan enough time for the model. Rapid solutions to problems cannot be implemented with the PDCA cycle.


  • Can help in all kinds of situations.

  • Simple set-up needs little guidance.

  • Cyclical idea invites constant improvement.

  • The iterative approach allows for control and analysis.


  • The vague definition can lead to incorrect use.

  • Changes need to be planned over longer periods of time.

  • With the PDCA cycle, one mainly reacts and rarely acts proactively.


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