Lean Training for your lean journey


PDCA Lean Methodology

for continuous process improvement

The PDCA Cycle is the most popular lean methodology.

You will also benefit from learning
a few of the other popular problem solving methods

that each apply the Scientific Method in different ways.

the scientific method

At the root of every lean methodology is...

The Scientific Method

  1. Come up with a hypothesis — a theory of how something works,
    and how something that you might do might affect it.
  2. Try an experiment — to test your theory.
  3. Observe, study, analyze, and reflect on the results.
  4. Do something with your newfound knowledge:
    1. If your theory seems wrong or incomplete —
      come up with a new hypothesis, and a new experiment to test it
    2. If your theory seems right — apply your new knowledge,
      and publish your results so others can benefit.

And then choose your next puzzle to solve —
in a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.

PDCA Cycle / PDSA Cycle

has 2 names because late in W. Edwards Deming's career,
he started using the word "study" instead of "check"

Plan / Predict

Identify the next obstacle or knowledge threshold blocking your progress toward the next Target Condition
that you and your Coach agreed upon using the Improvement Kata method for goal setting.

Then as part of PDCA Coaching Cycles, you and your Coach design experiments to better understand your process, and predict the outcomes that you anticipate might result from each experiment

It is acceptable to plan a PDCA Cycle where your only goal is to "go see" what is currently happening —
but usually you will plan to change one thing.


PDCA Cycle

Try it. Do your experiment as soon as possible.

How can you quickly do your experiment on a small scale?
Could we know the answer by this afternoon?

Rapid PDCA cycles are far more effective than long ones.
Think hold before tape before weld...

Check / Contemplate / Study

Study, Analyze, and Reflect on results

This is by far the most important
(yet most likely to be skipped) part of the cycle

Act / Adjust

If results confirm what you expected,

then adjust the standard work to anchor the change,
and socialize your success, so that everyone does it the better way.

If results are different from what you expected,

then adjust your thinking to come up with a new experiment
to better understand the true nature of your process.

Then start over again...

using PDCA Coaching Cycles to identify your next obstacle and design your next test
based on your (now greater) understanding

in a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement


There's no such thing as a failed experiment

"If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement.
If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery."


~ Enrico Fermi — Nobel Prize winning physicist

A "failed" experiment is more valuable than a "successful" one

Why? Because a refuted hypothesis reveals a knowledge threshold.
It makes the limits of your current understanding visible.

And new discoveries can happen only in that blurry unknown gray area
that lies just beyond your current threshold of understanding.

It is only when your experiment yields unexpected results
that you are forced to design new experiments
that will soon yield valuable new learnings.

We already know it probably won't work

That's the right mindset to have, to approach a well-designed experiment.

The purpose of the experiment is not to prove somebody right, or somebody wrong.
Our goal is to learn more about "what are the obstacles preventing it from working?"

Because we can't overcome obstacles until we understand them.

Don't think too far ahead

A huge advantage of rapid PDCA Cycles is that you only need to plan your NEXT experiment.

The next experiment after that might change radically based on the results of this one.

It doesn't matter where you start

Every obstacle will be sure to surface as you progress through your experiments.

One strategy is to start by simply attempting to accomplish your next Target Condition using your process as it is — with no changes. You will be sure to be stopped by several obstacles, which you then simply write down in your Obstacles Parking Lot in your PDCA template and/or Storyboard, and then you consult with your Coach to choose the first obstacle to begin working through.

Learn more about the Scientific Method for Problem Solving


PDCA Template / PDSA Template

for the PDCA Coaching Kata

After glancing over the long list of problem solving tools and methods...

You might be saying...

"All those one-liners make sense when I read them,
but I've got a real-world challenge to solve right now... "

Exactly HOW do I apply PDCA — right now?


Unknown Territory

The best answer is often...

Use your A3 template
and the A3 problem solving method

Another good answer is...

Use your PDCA template (PDCA.xlsx)

When to use your PDCA template

Use your PDSA template whenever you encounter unknown territory that is a chasm between you and your next Strategic Challenge.

If you are not navigating unknown territory,
then you should use your Tool Selection Matrix to choose appropriate lean tools and methods.

Before doing PDCA

You and your Coach should do the first 3 steps of the Improvement Kata:

  1. Strategic Alignment
  2. Process Analysis
  3. Next Goal Setting

PDCA Coaching Questions

Between every PDCA experiment, you and your Coach will do a coaching session together.

Prior to that Coaching Session, you will use your PDCA template to prepare your answers,
because you know that your Coach will ask the same questions every time.

PDCA template

PDCA template

  1. What is the Target Condition? *
  2. What is the Current Condition? *
  3. What was your Last Step? (Test Plan)
  4. What did you Predict would happen?
  5. What were the Actual Results?
  6. What was Learned?
  7. What are the Obstacles? *
  8. What is your Next Step? (Test Plan) **
  9. What do you Predict will happen?
  10. When is the soonest that we can go see the Results and Learnings from this next Step?

* These 3 fields might also be duplicated or summarized on your visual Storyboard.

** You will often work on the same obstacle for several PDCA Cycles

These PDCA Coaching questions come from Mike Rother's book, The Toyota Kata

You should also be using the usual
Lean Coaching Habits in everything you do.

Use your Storyboard

Your working document created from this PDCA Coaching template is intended to be printed and posted on your Storyboard

Storyboard = a big visual management bulletin board
that summarizes the the challenge that you are working on, and the progress that you are making.

Your PDCA template

And has all of the standard features common to every Systems2win template

Why re-invent?

Why re-invent?

Tip: You will get even more value from your PDSA template
when you supplement it with the PDCA Coaching Observations template (below).


PDCA Coach Coaching

There is even a template for your Coach's Coach — to help your Coach become a better Coach.

PDCA Coaching Observations template

What you will learn by using the PDCA Coaching Observations template: (PDCAc.xlsx)


Navigating unknown territory?

Use PDCA Coaching

And guess what? The Coach's Coach becomes a better Coach too.


Click each row header for pop-up help providing helpful tips and instructions.

Study the sample data on the Sample worksheet.

Be unobtrusive

As the Coach's Coach,
you should usually observe the process without participating too much.

Give most of your feedback and mentoring after the session,

and (before the session begins)
give the Coach the option of whether to receive feedback in private,
or with the Learner also receiving your feedback.

There are...

2 layers of PDCA cycles

1) Strategic (or macro) 2) Tactical (or micro)

Strategic Targets

Click for larger image in new window

Strategic Planning and Policy Deployment


Value Stream Plan

Value Stream Mapping

The PDCA Cycle is foundational
to every lean six sigma tool and method, and
every lean system needs it's own lean coaching system

Lean Training


Swim Lane Flowchart

SDCA Cycle

Definition of Daily Kaizen

continuous improvements consistently found & implemented by Daily Accountability Teams
(not kaizen events)

For Daily Kaizen...

SDCA Cycle
  1. There is no planning needed
  2. Adhering to Standard Work is even more critical

so the cycle emphasizes Standard Work even more —
becoming abbreviated to:


And more popular Lean Methodologies



The DMAIC Cycle is similar to the PDCA Cycle,
and is another way to apply the scientific method
that is popular in the Six Sigma community.

(with emphasis on quality, more than time and cost)

And there are a half dozen acronyms spawned for DMAIC
as it is applied to DFSS new product development
and other special situations...

The Shewhart Deming Cycle

Edward Deming (1986)

  1. What could be the most important accomplishments of this team?
    What changes might be desirable?
    What data is available? Are new observations needed?
    Plan an experiment to change or test something.
  2. Make the change (preferably on a small scale)
  3. Observe the effects
  4. Study and reflect upon the results.
    What can be learned?
    What can be predicted?
  5. Repeat the cycle — accumulating wisdom

The Six Steps of Kaizen

In their book Toyota Kaizen Methods, Isaiah Kato and Art Smalley
popularized the following Six Steps to Improvement:

  1. Discover improvement potential
  2. Analyze current methods
  3. Generate original ideas
  4. Develop an implementation plan
  5. Implement the plan
  6. Evaluate the new method
the scientific method

And more...

See the training page for Problem Solving Tools
to learn about many other frameworks for applying a systematic approach to problem solving.

You get the idea...

Any approach to process improvement that applies
the scientific method is a lean methodology.

At their core, every tool and method originating from Lean Six Sigma teachings is a unique way of applying the scientific method to unique circumstances that you're likely to encounter on your lean journey.


PDCA requires daily practice

What's the difference between a scientist and a third-grade science student?

They both know the definition of the scientific method...

but a scientist actually practices the scientific method —
with a high degree of skill — to solve endless diverse real-world problems

That's your goal...
to be a skilled and experienced lean six sigma practitioner...

actually practicing the lean six sigma scientific methods —
with a high degree of skill — to solve endless diverse real-world problems

"Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.
The more experiments you make the better."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Design of Experiments

aka DOE, D of E, designed experiments

Design of Experiments is a Six Sigma method to design, conduct, and analyze scientific experiments to test assumptions and hypotheses about how different variables affect the outcomes of a process.

Designed experiments are usually conducted in two phases:

Phase 1) Screening Experiment — to identify which of many possible variables have the most significant impact.

Phase 2) Optimization Study — to study the few most impactors variables more attentively.

General Procedure:

  1. Choose the process to study, and the purpose of the study.
  2. Clarify the output measures ("response") to study.
  3. Determine the appropriate measurement precision and accuracy
    (perhaps using repeatability and reproducibility studies)
  4. Using tools such as flowcharts, brainstorming, root cause fishbone...
    Identify potential variables ("factors") that might affect the output.
    Variables that can be controlled (and therefore experimented with).
    Identify each factor with a letter/label, such as A, B, C, etc.
  5. Choose low and high settings ("levels") for each factor,
    and identify them as A+, A-, B+, B-, C+, C-, etc.
  6. Document the design of experiments, including:
    • The different combinations of levels ("treatments")
    • How many times each treatment will be performed ("replication")
    • Sequence ("randomization")
  7. Identify variables that might interfere with the experiment —
    and plans for how to minimize or at least monitor them.
  8. Perform the experiment — carefully — as designed.
  9. Analyze the data and document conclusions
    perhaps using Pareto and other types of charts for clearer understanding.
  10. Use the conclusions to improve the process, and verify that the changes are actually improvements.
  11. Standardize the improved process.
  12. Decide whether or what additional experiments should be done next. Do it again.

Like everything else in the realm of Six Sigma... there is more to it than this brief summary.
For a more complete understanding — refer to the suggested reading: An Introduction to Design of Experiments, by Larry Barrentine.

If Six Sigma Design of Experiments sounds too complicated for you —
then it is

Unless your problem justifies the (much) greater complexity of Six Sigma,

you should be using the (much simpler) PDCA lean methodology.



Suggested Reading and Resources for

PDCA Lean Methodology

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