The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is also known as the Shewhart Cycle or, more famously in the world of Quality Management as, the Deming Cycle of Never-Ending Improvement. It was originally called the PDSA cycle where S represented the word “Study” but it was modified in the context of Japanese manufacturing improvement programmes, during the 1950s and 1960s, to become the PDCA cycle that we know today.

PDCA explained


This simple cycle can be used to make even basic processes more effective. The idea is that any process changes, new processes, new structures or organisational changes all need to be planned in some granularity. The second phase is where we must switch attention to the execution of the plan to ensure that what starts right continues to stay right and does not get corrupted by a faulty implementation. The next stage is where we pause and check that what we have implemented is operating as it should. In other words that it continues right. Finally, if data-driven evidence tells us that our change is not working, then we must act to make it right. PDCA can be used as a simple but effective framework for delivering changes and improvement by each function in the company. It can be applied to projects or processes of any size and scale.


When we work with customers either through our Business Consulting or Executive Coaching & Mentoring engagements or sometimes during Training courses that we deliver, we notice that changes often fail to take hold in organisations due to not following the PDCA cycle. Some of the breakdown issues stem from some, or all, of these reasons:

  1. There simply was no plan.
  2. The plan was inadequate or lacked granularity.
  3. Execution was not managed at all.
  4. The execution phase deviated from the plan.
  5. Nobody bothered to check if things were working.
  6. The checking that was done was inadequate and led to false confidence.
  7. No corrective actions were taken to make things right.
  8. Corrective actions taken were inadequate.

In our experience, the two biggest causes of failure from this list are number 2 and number 5. Looking at number 2 first we can see that when the plan is inadequate it means that the change never could have started right in the first place. We always recommend a granular template, like our own XTENSOS PDCA Planning Template to help to make sure that the plan is always adequate, it both asks and answers the questions that the organisation needs to deal with, and tracks the actions which will lead to success including how they will be checked and corrected if necessary.

The most common mistake that we have seen during over 30 years of experience in the world of Quality management is undoubtedly number 5. Many people have little or no capacity for follow-up. This can stem from bad training, poor management or from their Behavioural Profile. When the time is taken to draft a great plan and then roll it out it is a total waste if there is no follow-up. We call this behaviour PLAN-DO-WALK-AWAY. If you don’t have the capacity or patience for follow-up then bring someone into your team who does otherwise your plans and changes will be totally ineffective and will not stick.

We find it useful to breakdown all processes using the PDCA cycle. In this way, you can clearly identify the steps you took to implement the process; where you stopped; what challenges occurred and what are the solutions that will help you continue the process.  Once you get used to using it, you may end up using it almost unconsciously for minor tasks as well.


PDCA is one of the methods that can help your organization bring the structure you need to constantly evaluate and improve your processes and organisational changes.  Most of the improvement challenges that we see most often are of human nature, including

  • Individuals making unsound assumptions.
  • People acting out their behavioural profile instead of compensating for their weaker areas.
  • Team dynamics, including politics.
  • C-Level leaders’ often uneducated views of what quality procedures should be.

A recent Harvard Business Review study identified some of these factors as essential in promoting a quality-driven work culture.


Are you thinking of restructuring the reporting system so that you can gather more information from your data? Do you want to revisit and improve your recruiting plan? Do you have processes that just are not delivering the quality results that you want? Does your company need to restructure?

If you have any process that you want to improve, take it through the PDCA cycle. Ask yourself questions that would determine the strong and weak points of your plan.  understand the steps that will make execution a success. Test your measures of success before applying them to large-scale processes. Learn from testing or ask other people for feedback. Repeat the plan for additional improvements.


At XTENSOS, our services have all been built to have a strong quality focus, based on the extensive Quality Management experience of our CEO, Paul McManus. He learned about the PDCA cycle as a young quality engineer in a manufacturing company and has used it throughout his career up to and including C-Level roles.

His Quality Management experience was central in him creating and implementing global ISO Certified Quality Management Systems (QMS) in industries such as manufacturing, language services, learning & development, software development, engineering etc.

More recently XTENSOS has partnered with PECB to deliver fully certified quality-focused training across Europe. Our quality focus is part of our DNA and will never change and we will always believe in the simplicity and yet the power of PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT.

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