PDCA cycle (Deming wheel)

The PDCA Cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is also commonly known as the Demming wheel, named after W. Edwards Demming, a Quality Management pioneer. The cycle is a well known model for CPI, or continual process improvement. It is also a basic foundation for the various iterative and spiral process models in IT project management.

The PDCA cycle is a valuable process that can be applied to practically anything.

The PDCA cycle involves four basic steps – Plan, Do, Check and Act. These are:

Plan – To identify and recognize a particular problem, break it down into smaller, more manageable components, select one for improvement and outline the methods and solutions that can be taken to solve this problem / component. This phase also included establishing correct metrics through which we can measure concretely the factors cause the problem.

Do – Known as the prototyping phase in IT projects, this involves testing the proposed change on an experimental basis and / or on a small scale. Such caution is warranted; this minimizes the risk of disrupting regular processes, and allows management to test whether such changes will actually make a positive impact or not (without running the risk of reducing productivity or affecting profits).

Check – An evaluation of the tests carried out (i.e. the ‘Do’ phase). Usually problems and their impact are measured by certain metrics (decided in the ‘Plan’ phase), and this phase circles around measuring results in the Do phase versus benchmark results specified in the Plan phase. In project management terminology, this means evaluating key performance indicators in light of experimental changes in a practical setting.

Act – An implementation of the proposed changes in case the tests (Do phase) prove successful (established by the ‘Check’ phase). This phase transforms the proposed changes into integrated practices within your regular business processes.

These four steps complete the ‘cycle’ – the journey from facing the problem (Plan phase) to solving the problem (Act phase).

The PDCA cycle has become the new ‘trend’ in project management. The danger with such an approach is that many project managers implement the cycle with understanding the principles behind it – thus leading to a waste of resources. The PDCA process involves a deep grounding in identify and measuring key performance indicators – unless this is done correctly, everything else is extraneous. Similarly, it also requires the expertise to test changes within a controlled environment, and the management to implement successful changes on a wide-scale. Within a 10-man project team that may be easy to do, but working with hundreds or thousands of employees requires a solid foundation in best practices of project management.

The PDCA cycle is an optimal tool to regularly improve your processes and practices. It involves all the hallmarks of a successful project itself: Clear identification of the problem and metrics, a prototyping of the solution, evaluation of the changes and subsequently, a full-scale implementation (read replication) of the success. Within project management, like in any industry, success and survival is built upon a process of continuous improvement; the PDCA cycle epitomizes that belief, and helps project managers improve effectively.

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