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.
At the root of every lean methodology is...
The Scientific Method
And then choose your next puzzle to solve —
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
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.
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
Bookmark = nofail
There's no such thing as a failed experiment
"If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement.
~ 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.
And new discoveries can happen only in that blurry unknown gray area
It is only when your experiment yields unexpected results
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.
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
Bookmark = PDCAtemplate
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?
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)
- to systematically coach every person in your organization
- to systematically apply lean thinking to improve every process
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:
- Strategic Alignment
- Process Analysis
- 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.
- What is the Target Condition? *
- What is the Current Condition? *
- What was your Last Step? (Test Plan)
- What did you Predict would happen?
- What were the Actual Results?
- What was Learned?
- What are the Obstacles? *
- What is your Next Step? (Test Plan) **
- What do you Predict will happen?
- 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
- Gives you an organized place
to write your answers to every one of these recurring coaching questions
- Gives you a permanent record
- Gives your organization a standardized format and system for all PDCA coaching
- Makes it easy for your Coach's Coach to coach your Coach
- Can be printed and slipped into a transparent sleeve on your Team Accountability Board
And has all of the standard features common to every Systems2win template
- Standardized format common to all 150+ templates
- Help, training, and technical support
- Language translations
Click a button, and now the same template
is in Chinese, German, French, Spanish, or Portuguese
- Easily personalized
in ways that your personalizations
will be automatically found & transferred every time you upgrade
- All of the standard systems
for version control, distribution to a large number of scattered users,
and all the other stuff that you don't want to pay an internal employee to re-invent
Tip: You will get even more value from your PDSA template
when you supplement it with the PDCA Coaching Observations template (below).
Bookmark = PDCAc
PDCA Coach Coaching
There is even a template for your Coach's Coach — to help your Coach become a better Coach.
What you will learn by using the PDCA Coaching Observations template: (PDCAc.xlsx)
- Asking the right questions at the right time.
- Allowing the Learner to lead (not follow).
- Better clarification of the PDCA Coaching Kata method.
- More focus on learning the Improvement Kata way of thinking —
not just short-term results for the problem of the moment.
- Forcing the Learner to apply Lean Thinking, so that it becomes an ingrained habitual way to approach ANY problem.
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.
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.
2 layers of PDCA cycles
|1) Strategic (or macro)||2) Tactical (or micro)|
Click for larger image in new window
The PDCA Cycle is foundational
Definition of Daily Kaizen
For Daily Kaizen...
- There is no planning needed
- Adhering to Standard Work is even more critical
so the cycle emphasizes Standard Work even more —
becoming abbreviated to:
- Standardize — establish work standards
- Do — apply the standards
- Check / Study — Any deviation from the standard
should prompt the following 3 questions:
- Did the deviation occur because no standard exists?
- Did the deviation occur because the standard is inadequate?
- Did the deviation occur because the standard was ignored?
- Act — Adjust either the standard or the behavior of the worker that ignored the standard
Bookmark = DMAIC
And more popular Lean Methodologies
The Shewhart Deming Cycle
Edward Deming (1986)
The Six Steps of Kaizen
In their book Toyota Kaizen Methods, Isaiah Kato and Art Smalley
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 —
That's your goal...
actually practicing the lean six sigma scientific methods —
"Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Bookmark = DOE
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.
- Choose the process to study, and the purpose of the study.
- Clarify the output measures ("response") to study.
- Determine the appropriate measurement precision and accuracy
(perhaps using repeatability and reproducibility studies)
- 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.
- Choose low and high settings ("levels") for each factor,
and identify them as A+, A-, B+, B-, C+, C-, etc.
- Document the design of experiments, including:
- The different combinations of levels ("treatments")
- How many times each treatment will be performed ("replication")
- Sequence ("randomization")
- Identify variables that might interfere with the experiment —
and plans for how to minimize or at least monitor them.
- Perform the experiment — carefully — as designed.
- Analyze the data and document conclusions
perhaps using Pareto and other types of charts for clearer understanding.
- Use the conclusions to improve the process, and verify that the changes are actually improvements.
- Standardize the improved process.
- 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.
Bookmark = Reading
Suggested Reading and Resources for
PDCA Lean Methodology
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