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Simple Yet Powerful Tool for Achieving Excellence

Continuous improvement is a critical strategy for sustaining competitiveness and achieving Operational Excellence (OpEx). At the heart of this strategy lies the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, a powerful, iterative methodology that fosters a culture of continuous enhancement in processes, products, and services.

Developed from the pioneering work of quality management guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the PDCA cycle provides a structured framework for problem-solving and process optimization. By systematically (1) planning improvement actions(2) implementing them, (3) checking the results, and acting on what is learned, organizations can perpetually refine their operations and drive significant improvements.

The PDCA is at the core of the ISO Standards, the Shingo Model implementation and many more of the renowned Excellence models.

“PDCA is the essence of managerial work: making sure the job gets done today and developing better ways to do it tomorrow” ~Brain Joiner

The PDCA cycle is considered a planning tool used for any type of projects, programs, improvement initiatives and activities.

1. Plan: Recognize an opportunity for improvement, program, activity or a needed change. The planning is combined with the 5WsH questions: 

Why is it required?

What is required to be done?

Where it is required to be done?

Who should do it?

When it is required to be done?

How to do it?

2. Do: Execute your plan.

3. Check: Once execution is completed, review the results. Analyze the results, and identify what you’ve learned both on the initial plan itself and its outcome.

4. Act: Take action based on what you learned in the study step. If the plan did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again.

When to use the PDCA cycle?

The PDCA cycle is applied to all kind of processes:

  • Starting a new improvement project

  • Developing a new or improved design of a process, product, or service

  • Defining a repetitive work process

  • Planning data collection and analysis in order to verify and prioritize problems or root causes

  • Implementing any change

  • Working toward continuous improvement (1)

Our methodology A-PDCA
4 + 1 steps model for impactful improvement

The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is a fundamental four-step model for implementing change and fostering continuous improvement. Much like a circle with no end, the PDCA cycle should be repeated continuously to drive ongoing enhancements in processes and performance. However, to achieve impactful change, it's crucial to thoroughly assess the current state and understand existing conditions and performance levels. This is why we have incorporated an additional semi-mandatory Assessment step into our methodology, creating an A-PDCA cycle.

The A-PDCA cycle begins with the Assessment (A) phase, where current conditions and performance metrics are evaluated. This step is essential to identify gaps, strengths, and areas for improvement. Utilizing assessment tools such as SWOT analysis, performance metrics, and stakeholder feedback ensures a comprehensive understanding of the current state. 

Assessment tools are also developed to assess performance relevant to specific criteria, such as the Shingo Insight Self-Assessment tool for Organizational Excellence. Or the AIPMO PMO-MI® assessment model for PMOs Maturity and Impact Assessments. 

Enhancing the planning process with an initial step of assessment has proven effective in establishing robust plans tailored to meet specific requirements and align with organizational goals, thereby significantly increasing the likelihood of success and client satisfaction.

The PDCA at the core of ISO Standards

Integrating the PDCA cycle into ISO standards is a fundamental approach to achieving continuous improvement and maintaining quality management systems. Many ISO standards, including ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management System), ISO 9001 (Quality Management System), ISO 22000 (Food Safety Management System), and ISO 14001 (Environment Management System) are based on the PDCA cycle. Here's how the PDCA cycle integrates within the ISO Annex SL Structure and how it is efficient tool for achieving its requirements:


  • Context of the Organization (Clause 4): Understand the context and identify risks and opportunities for the relevant system.

  • Leadership (Clause 5): Establish policy and objectives.

  • Planning (Clause 6): Plan actions to address risks and opportunities, legal and other requirements.


  • Support (Clause 7): Ensure resources, competence, awareness, communication, and control of documented information.

  • Operation (Clause 8): Implement operational controls, manage change, and prepare for and respond to emergency situations.


  • Performance Evaluation (Clause 9): Monitor, measure, analyze, and evaluate the management system performance, conduct internal audits, and management reviews.


  • Improvement (Clause 10): Identify incidents and nonconformities, and take corrective actions to continually improve the management system performance.

The PDCA in the Shingo Model

The PDCA cycle is a practical manifestation of the principles espoused by the Shingo Model. It operationalizes the model’s focus on continuous improvement by providing a structured approach to problem-solving and process enhancement. The successful implementation of PDCA within the Shingo Model framework relies on:

  • Culture: Creating an environment where continuous improvement is a shared value.

  • Systems: Establishing robust processes that support the iterative nature of PDCA.

  • Tools: Utilizing appropriate tools to facilitate each stage of the PDCA cycle.


  • Embrace Scientific Thinking: The Shingo Model advocates for a systematic and rigorous approach to problem-solving, similar to the scientific method. This involves planning by defining problems, hypothesizing solutions, and setting objectives for improvement efforts.

  • Seek Perfection: Although perfection is unattainable, striving for it ensures that planning includes setting high standards and long-term goals, promoting a mindset of continuous improvement.


  • Focus on Process: Implementing planned changes by focusing on processes rather than people ensures that improvements are systematically applied. This involves executing the plans in a controlled environment to validate hypotheses.

  • Assure Quality at the Source: During the 'Do' phase, the Shingo Model emphasizes ensuring that each step of the process is executed correctly the first time, reducing the need for rework and minimizing errors.


  • Improve Flow & Pull: After implementing changes, the next step involves monitoring and evaluating the outcomes. This is where checking the flow of processes and ensuring that production meets actual demand comes into play. Any disruptions or inefficiencies are identified during this phase.

  • Create Constancy of Purpose: Regularly reviewing the alignment of activities with the organization's long-term vision and goals ensures that the improvements are sustainable and continue to add value.


  • Think Systemically: The Shingo Model stresses the importance of understanding and addressing systemic issues rather than isolated problems. This involves making necessary adjustments based on the feedback received during the 'Check' phase to ensure the continuous alignment of processes and goals.

  • Create Value for the Customer: Finally, acting on the insights gained to refine processes and enhance value for the customer is crucial. This phase ensures that the changes lead to tangible improvements in quality and customer satisfaction.

The integration of PDCA within the Shingo Model's guiding principles helps organizations foster a culture of continuous improvement and operational excellence. The model's focus on cultural enablers, continuous improvement, and enterprise alignment further supports the effective implementation of PDCA, ensuring that all organizational activities contribute to sustained excellence. 

In conclusion, the synergy between the PDCA cycle, ISO standards, and the Shingo Model creates a robust framework for achieving operational excellence and continuous improvement. Integrating PDCA into daily operations ensures that continuous improvement becomes an inherent part of the organizational culture, driving innovation, efficiency, and sustainable growth.

By embracing this integrated approach, businesses can navigate the complexities of the modern marketplace, deliver superior value to their customers, and achieve enduring competitive advantage.


Reach out to us to discover how we can assist your organization with comprehensive assessment solutions. Our expertise spans various modules, each equipped with specialized assessment tools to address your unique needs.

Check out our assessment tools related to each module and see how we can help you achieve excellence in your processes and performance.


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