The Importance of the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle

Better resource management begins with a more efficient allocation of time, labor, and materials. The PDCA cycle makes it possible to optimize use of these critical resources by enabling your team to plan and execute maintenance activities proactively and efficiently. By giving your maintenance team the ability to better anticipate maintenance activities, plan for downtime, and minimize disruptions, you lay the groundwork for far-reaching operational improvements.

• Monitor and measure test-phase outcomes against your initial objectives.
• Use before-and-after data to identify changes in performance.
• Draw meaningful inferences from procedural mistakes and unforeseen outcomes.

As noted above, Deming is credited with introducing the PDCA cycle. He initially built his idea on a foundation laid by influential Bell Laboratories statistician Walter A. Shewhart. Working in the context of statistical quality control, Shewhart conceptualized the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle, sometimes referred to as the Shewhart cycle, in the 1930s.

In contrast, consider the benefits of an ongoing PDCA cycle.

Check phase

The PDCA cycle is a management strategy that operates on a continuous loop of planning, implementation, assessment, and improvement. Deming originally intended this loop to be a method of quality control, but it has since evolved into a fundamental tool in the overall management of business processes and improvement projects.

These activities are central to the PDCA cycle. In the discussion below, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle—what it is, how it works, and how it can enhance your organization’s preventive maintenance program.

What is the PDCA cycle?

• Identify a problem or an area for improvement.
• Set objectives and detail a plan to achieve them.
• Gather data to set a baseline and forecast the potential effect of planned changes.

The PDCA cycle may be particularly valuable during the software development process, where iterative testing is used to continuously refine outputs. This continuous loop is also valuable for identifying bugs and integrating user feedback into ongoing software updates.

• Implement your plan on a small scale to test its effectiveness.
• Gather data while minimizing disruption to regular operations.
• Make preliminary determinations about the feasibility of your plan.

Below, we take a closer look at the four critical stages of the PDCA cycle.


Plan phase

For just a moment, consider the consequences of forgoing the PDCA cycle. A business without an imperative for continuous improvement is likely to experience mounting inefficiency, creative stagnation, and even a greater risk of operational disruption. These conditions may also predicate a reactive maintenance strategy—a less-than-optimal approach in which maintenance tasks are only performed at the point of failure.

Public sector

Your maintenance team’s unique vantage point means that these technicians, specialists, and experts are not only essential for the upkeep of your physical assets but also well-positioned to serve as agents of change.

The PDCA cycle may be used in the manufacturing sector to address product defects. In this context, the cycle can be used to plan process improvements, implement these improvements on a small scale, test the results, and ultimately standardize these changes across the production process.

Improved asset management is rooted in proactive maintenance. The PDCA cycle requires regular assessment and improvement of equipment maintenance. This puts your maintenance team in the ideal position to enhance the reliability of equipment, extend the life of machinery, and reduce the likelihood of unplanned downtime. This preventive maintenance approach can also reduce the costs associated with emergency repairs, premature replacement, and extended downtime.

Quality control is an essential component of business management in virtually every industry. As such, the PDCA cycle may be applied in a wide spectrum of operational contexts.

Data-driven decisions lead to better business outcomes. The PDCA cycle places a strong emphasis on data collection and analysis, particularly during the check phase. This means data are used to identify potential problems, test solutions, and make adjustments before any changes are implemented on a broader scale. As a consequence, improvements are based on empirical data rather than flawed assumptions, conventional wisdom, or wishful thinking.

Make maintenance a change agent

Continuous improvement is at the heart of PDCA. For maintenance teams, this means an ongoing cycle of procedural improvement. This may include preventive maintenance scheduling, more effective repair procedures, elevated safety measures, and more. In an ideal setting, this cycle would yield constant incremental changes to maintenance processes, procedures, and outcomes. Taken together, these conditions will lead to significant organizational improvements over time.

• Use the check-phase outcome to initiate action.
• In the event of a successful test phase, implement your process improvement on a larger scale.
• In the event of an unsuccessful test phase, follow a scientific method, refining your hypothesis or methodology and restarting the cycle.

The history of the PDCA cycle

Act phase

The plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle plays a central role in fostering improvement by facilitating a structured and ongoing approach to problem-solving. Because the PDCA cycle is ongoing, it also plays a central role in helping organizations navigate shifts in the economic climate, align with new regulatory requirements, adapt to rapidly advancing technology, and more.


Published May 16, 2024, by Limble.


In the time since, the PDCA process has both evolved and provided the foundation for influential project management, quality management, and quality improvement strategies including lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and agile development. In each of these contexts, the PDCA cycle remains central to continuous improvement and navigating change.

When should you use the PDCA cycle?

Structured problem solving creates a clear and simple pathway to improvement. The PDCA cycle provides an easily navigated framework for identifying, analyzing, and resolving maintenance issues. And because PDCA calls for small-scale testing in advance of broader implementation, this approach significantly minimizes the risks of operational disruption and possibility of internal resistance.

The PDCA cycle can be used to plan, test, and evaluate potential improvements to the patient care process, including procedures for reducing wait times, measures for more effectively communicating post-discharge instructions, and protocols for the safer administration of medications.

The PDCA model can help retail businesses improve customer satisfaction by enhancing customer service outcomes. The cycle may be used to test, evaluate, and standardize new customer service strategies, such as incorporating automated technology or reducing call wait times.

Maintenance teams play a particularly important role in implementing the PDCA cycle. PDCA is an inherently proactive strategy and relies on the contribution of maintenance personnel. Maintenance technicians will perform several critical functions throughout the PDCA cycle. They will, for example, identify systemic issues, optimize equipment performance, and track performance improvements.

Meanwhile, those competitors that have leveraged the PDCA cycle will continue to spot and remove inefficiencies, reduce waste, and introduce innovations to their processes. In the simplest terms, an absence of continuous improvement is a recipe for falling behind the competition.

Benefits of leveraging the PDCA cycle for maintenance teams

The cycle’s repetitive approach is particularly effective for promoting continuous improvement by creating a feedback loop and an environment where team members are expected to be both adaptable and responsive to changing conditions. The result is a culture of strategic thinking and proactive problem-solving.

The PDCA cycle

Do phase

Deming was a direct protege of Shewhart and adopted his cycle concept to fit the broader movement toward quality control. Deming articulated his idea while helping to rebuild postwar Japan in the 1950s. Through his association with the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), Deming helped train hundreds of engineers, managers, and thought leaders in the emergent field of quality control.

Known by several names, PDCA was originated by W. Edwards Deming—often cited as the father of the quality movement. As such, PDCA is sometimes also referred to as the William Deming cycle or Deming wheel.

Information technology

Government agencies may use PDCA to plan, pilot, evaluate, and adjust policy proposals before implementing changes on a wider scale. Many public government agencies use this iterative process to implement, test, and refine new regulations.

How does the PDCA cycle benefit maintenance teams?

Moreover, a business that fails to engage in a continuous loop of planning, testing, and action is at a heightened risk of falling behind as technology evolves, market conditions change, and regulatory requirements shift.