You won’t believe what will happen to your team when the PDCA cycle becomes second nature

The PDCA or Plan-do-check-act cycle is a four-step model for carrying out change. It is an essential project planning tool for harnessing and achieving continuous improvements to your business. A crucial part of the lean manufacturing philosophy, PDCA enables teams to avoid recurring errors and improve processes.


The PDCA approach was pioneered by American physicist and statistician Walter Shewhart and another American statistician William Deming was has since been an integral part of lean management. This cycle helps continuously initiate change and systematically perform them.

Let’s put PDCA into perspective by outlining its key principles and explaining how to put them into practice efficiently.

Take this example into account:
The problem arises when assistants at the reception have to serve too many patients at the reception and telephone simultaneously. Since most patients would rather talk to the dentist personally, the aim of your practice is to introduce a new online system that enables patients to autonomously book a telephone appointment with the dentist and also to create more resources at the reception for work.

1. Phase: Plan

The planning phase deals with the following questions:

  • What problem do we have to solve?
  • What resources do we need?
  • What resources do we have?
  • What are the possible solutions?
  • Which solution is best suited to solve the problem with the available resources?
  • Under what conditions does the plan succeed?
  • What are our goals?

For example:
In the above scenario, you will consider: How can we know what the caller wants? How much time do we plan for the telephone appointments? What happens if something unforeseen happens? At what times can we best schedule which appointments? How many are possible per day? Does anyone need to check the online calendar? How much time does it take? Who can install it? What does it cost? How do patients find out about the new system? Etc.

2. Phase: Do

Everything you developed in Phase 1 will now be put into action. The best way is to first implement the plan on a model or on a small scale to better manage any unforeseen problems that arise.

For example:
The system administrator is instructed to integrate the calendar module on the website. The dental practitioner then determines the period between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. for telephone appointments. This period is color-coded in the calendar. Each team member assumes the role of a patient who wants to speak to the dentist personally and goes to the calendar on their computer, enters his desired appointment there, and confirms it.

3. Phase: Check

In order to check whether everything really works as planned, you can carefully examine the need for further changes with the help of lean tools like Gemba Walks.

For example:
The dentist looks at the calendar at the specified time and wants to call patient 1 but he does not have the number because only the patient’s first name has been entered. At the second telephone appointment, another employee calls in the role of another patient. The dentist is surprised because he wanted to make the call himself. So everyone tests the system once and gradually gets to know the strengths of the new system from different perspectives (patient, receptionist, dentist).

4. Phase: Act

In this phase, the developers react to the results of the analysis. Once the original goals have been achieved, they integrate the new approach. In case of any difficulties, they are first resolved and the process is started again from the beginning.

For example:
The staff hand out a flyer with information and instructions to patient parents and other patients, in which they can register. Now the appointments can start.

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