Subscribe to our Newsletter

PDCA Method: A Complete Guide to Lean

Adeline de Oliveira
Two managers in a warehouse discussing while looking at a document on a clipboard

Lean management, a philosophy initiated by Toyota, is centered on continuous improvement. It has transformed the way companies in various sectors deal with process improvement.

At the heart of this continuous approach is the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, a systematic, iterative process that reinforces the power of Lean by providing a framework for planning, executing, evaluating, and constantly adjusting operations. Together, Lean and PDCA form a powerful alliance, an effective and sustainable way for organizations to thrive in an ever-changing environment.

In this comprehensive guide, we take an in-depth look at the PDCA cycle: the definition of PDCA, how this method fits in with Lean principles, its benefits for companies, and the areas and situations in which the PDCA process can be used. Finally, we explain the 4 steps to applying Plan-Do-Check-Act effectively and producing better results.

Key takeways:

  • PDCA is a continuous improvement cycle aimed at improving business efficiency.
  • It involves four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.
  • PDCA can be applied to various industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and service.
  • The method provides benefits such as improved quality, reduced waste, and increased customer satisfaction.
  • Implementing PDCA can be challenging, but proper training and commitment can lead to successful implementation.


In a hurry? Save this article as a PDF.

Tired of scrolling? Download a PDF version for easier offline reading and sharing with coworkers.

Download a PDF version.

The PDCA process: Plan, do, check, action

The PDCA cycle, or Deming wheel, is the cornerstone of Lean thinking. Based on the principle of repetition, this scientific method is designed for quality control and process improvements ‒ continuously ‒ with minimal disruption to an organization’s operations.

Although named after Dr. William Edwards Deming, who popularized the “Deming cycle”, the PDCA methodology was initially developed by the American physicist and statistician Walter A. Shewhart (“Shewhart cycle”).

Each letter in the PDCA acronym is associated with a stage in the cycle:

  1. Plan 
  2. Do 
  3. Check
  4. Act

The goal of the PDCA cycle is to identify problems and develop multiple solutions, then implement, evaluate, and adjust them continuously. Thus, the PDCA cycle works as a loop of continuous improvement.

What is the link between PDCA and Lean?

The PDCA method is an integral part of the Lean Management philosophy, and the two concepts overlap on several points:

  • Continuous improvement: Lean Management focuses on the continuous improvement of business processes, the reduction of waste, and the increase of customer value. The PDCA cycle embodies this philosophy, providing a systematic framework for identifying, implementing, evaluating, and adjusting improvements.
  • Eliminating waste: One of the main pillars of Lean is the elimination of waste (Muda), such as delays, excessive inventories, unnecessary movements, etc. The PDCA cycle enables these wastes to be identified and reduced in a structured way. 
  • Lean planning: When Lean initiatives need to be implemented, the PDCA cycle provides a model for strategic planning.  
  • Standardization and repetition: Lean Management emphasizes the standardization of work processes to ensure consistency and replicability. Plan-Do-Check-Act contributes to this standardization by ensuring improvement measures are based on accurate data and analysis.
  • Employee engagement: Lean Management values employee engagement and contribution to continuous improvement. The PDCA process fosters active participation by enabling employees to suggest ideas for improvement and implement the required adjustments.

The PDCA method: Concrete benefits for companies

The PDCA method is widely used in business process management and improvement due to its many benefits:

List of the benefits of the PDCA method

  • Structured improvement: Planning, execution and monitoring, which reduces inefficiencies and the risks of critical issues.
  • Optimization of resources: Reduced waste, resulting in cost savings and greater efficiency.
  • Quality improvement: Fewer errors and defects throughout processes, resulting in higher-quality products and services.
  • Higher customer satisfaction: Continuous improvement of processes, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Data-driven management: Decision making based on facts and accurate data, which facilitates business goal achievement.
  • Employee engagement: Employees actively participate in the improvement process, resulting in higher engagement and motivation.
  • Better problem solving: Identify root causes of ineffective elements to quickly implement solutions.
  • Flexibility: Ability to adapt to change to accelerate problem solving.
  • Reduced risk: Quicker identification and correction of business problems, lowering operational and process risks.

Where can the PDCA cycle be used?

One of the strengths of the Plan-Do-Check-Act method is its versatility, as it can be applied to a wide range of industries, and internal and external processes. Here are some of the areas in which it is frequently used:

  • Manufacturing: The PDCA cycle helps optimize production processes, improve product quality, and reduce defects and delivery times. It’s also used to avoid recurring mistakes in operations
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, PDCA can be used to improve patient care, streamline administrative processes, and enhance the overall quality of healthcare.
  • Information technology: IT departments can use Plan-Do-Check-Act to improve software development processes, network management, and IT service delivery.
  • Service industries: The PDCA cycle is also valuable in service sectors such as banking, hospitality, and retail, where it can improve customer service, reduce errors, and increase efficiency.

When to use the Plan-Do-Check-Act method

The PDCA method can be used in many situations to achieve continuous improvement objectives:

List of business scenarios where PDCA can be used

  • Recurring problems: When your organization faces recurring problems or challenges, the PDCA cycle can be used to solve them systematically. For example, if you regularly experience delays in project delivery, this method can help you identify the underlying causes and find potential solutions.
  • Major changes: When introducing significant organizational changes, such as adopting new technology or restructuring, PDCA can help plan and implement such changes, and monitor and adjust them in a systematic way.
  • New products or services launch: When developing new products or services, PDCA can be used to ensure that your marketing and operational strategies are relevant and that the products/services meet market needs.
  • Process optimization: The PDCA cycle is effective for optimizing an existing work process. It can be used to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and ensure that operations run smoothly.
  • Quality management: PDCA is commonly used in quality management practices to ensure that standards are met and processes are optimized to meet those standards.
  • Customer satisfaction improvement: If you're looking to improve customer satisfaction, Plan-Do-Check-Act can be used to identify areas for improvement, implement an action plan, and assess the impact of improvements on customers.
  • Project management: The PDCA cycle can be applied to project planning and management to ensure that the project is planned, executed, monitored, and modified according to set objectives.

How to apply the PDCA method

Now that you know what is the PDCA method and when to use it, it's time to apply it. To make it easier, here are the details of the 4 phases and an handy template to keep them top of mind:

Infographic showing the 4 phases of the PDCA cycle and the steps to take in each phase

1. “Plan” phase

The planning stage is vital, enabling you to lay the foundations for subsequent actions.

  • Identify a specific problem or opportunity for improvement.
  • Set clear objectives (SMART method).
  • Gather relevant information and data.
  • Analyze this data using Pareto diagrams, Ishikawa diagrams, etc. 
  • Draw up a detailed continuous improvement plan to achieve your project goals (steps to take, responsibilities of each team member, required resources, timetable, etc.).
  • Define performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress.

2. “Do” phase

In this phase, the change strategies or improvements identified at the previous stage are implemented in a controlled environment, on a small scale to assess their effectiveness and feasibility.

  • Implement the action plan developed in the previous phase.
  • Carry out activities in compliance with established guidelines.
  • Document changes.

3. “Check” phase

This step will help you determine whether the improvements implemented according to the initial plan have provided the desired results or if they require further adjustments.

  • Gather data on the results achieved.
  • Measure your progress regularly and evaluate performance against targets.
  • Monitor the results of changes made at the "Do" step.

4. “Act” phase

If the experiments are successful, you can standardize them and integrate them into your regular operations. Adjust your approach as necessary. Multiple iterations can be repeated until you achieve the desired outcome.

  • Make decisions based on the results obtained in the "Control" phase.

Once these 4 stages have been completed, the PDCA methodology can begin again, leaving room for a new improvement cycle.

Pro tip: Documenting each step, collecting and analyzing relevant data, and involving stakeholders is essential.

3 Methods to Implement Now HOW TO ACHIEVE OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE Download our Whitepaper

Examples of applied PDCA cycles

To give you a better understanding of how the PDCA cycle can be applied in the real world, here are two examples:

1. PDCA cycle in manufacturing

Let’s say you manage a factory and want to reduce the amount of waste produced.


You realize that your company produces too much waste. Create a plan with clear objectives:

  • Identify sources of waste.
  • Encourage managers and employees to adopt more sustainable production practices.
  • Implement a waste tracking system.


It's time to put your plan into action and meet your objectives: 

  • Optimize production processes to minimize waste.
  • Train managers and employees.
  • Track waste generation with better accuracy.


  • Collect data on the amount of waste generated before and after the changes are implemented.
  • Compare this data with the targets defined in the “Plan” phase.


  • Based on the results, make further adjustments to continue reducing waste on an ongoing basis.

2. PDCA cycle in healthcare

Let’s say you own a medical practice and want to improve appointment management to reduce patient waiting times.


You realize that appointment management is not as efficient as it could be, and patients wait for too long. Make a plan with clear objectives:

  • Plan the implementation of a new appointment management system.
  • Train staff on how to use it.
  • Set up waiting time indicators to track.


It's time to put your plan into action and meet your objectives: 

  • Install the new system.
  • Train the staff.
  • Start using the new process to manage appointments.


  • Monitor patient waiting times using the new system to gather current data.
  • Compare this data with the indicators defined in the “Plan” phase.


  • If waiting times are too long compared to what you had planned, adjust the system to improve the situation.

PDCA and Lean: A powerful duo for operational excellence

The PDCA model is a powerful tool for continuous process improvement in various industries and areas of operation. It offers a structured approach to planning, implementing, evaluating, and adjusting initiatives. With this scientific method, organizations can solve problems, optimize their operations, and adapt effectively to a constantly changing environment. 

PDCA and Lean are inseparable partners in the quest for operational excellence. They complement and reinforce each other. Together, they form a solid roadmap for innovation, sustainable growth, and customer satisfaction.

By integrating these two approaches, companies can achieve the highest performance levels, reduce costs, improve quality, and remain competitive in their markets.

FAQ on the PDCA method

What is the PDCA method in lean management?


How does the PDCA method improve business efficiency?


What are the benefits of implementing the PDCA method in an organization?


Can the PDCA method be used in any industry or sector?


Are there any potential challenges in implementing the PDCA method?


Seize new opportunities for improvement by integrating the PDCA cycle with Lean management 

Take advantage of the support and expertise of our operational excellence coaches to effectively integrate the PDCA method into Lean management.

Adeline de Oliveira

Adeline de Oliveira

Writer and editorial manager for about 15 years, Adeline de Oliveira is passionate about human behavior and communication dynamics. At Proaction International, she covers topics ranging from Industry 5.0 to operational excellence, with a focus on leadership development. This expertise enables her to offer insights and advice on employee engagement and continuous improvement of managerial skills.