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Deming Cycle - PDCA Cycle - Shewhart Cycle
Proven for Continuous Improvement


What is the Deming Cycle

The Deming Cycle or PDCA Cycle or Shewhart Cycle (named after Walter Shewhart and further developed by W. Edwards Deming) is a four stage change management model used by companies for continuous business improvement and incremental problem solving.



This change management model benefits companies by providing a systematic approach to achieving continuous improvement. The objective is to continually progress through each stage while aiming to achieve a better quality output of products or services or information as defined by our customers.

The Deming Cycle is often phrased in the change management process and in business improvement fields as the PDCA cycle. It is often graphically presented as a circle or wheel because it requires repeating the same stages over and over in the continuous change management effort to improve processes and outputs. The circle is represented in four quadrants of plan-do-check-act.

Other variations to the name include, Deming Circle, Deming Wheel, Deming Quality Wheel and Deming Management Wheel. When I have seen this change management model referred to as Deming Circle or Deming Wheel the four quadrant names plan do check act have been called plan do study act. They all refer to the same model and process.

Deming Cycle - PDCA Cycle - Shewhart Cycle Diagram

deming cycle





How To Use The Deming Cycle

Below I have outlined the details of each of the 5 stages of the Deming Cycle. By following these I hope it will benefit those who wish to implement this change management model. This process can be particularly useful for continuous improvement initiatiates.

In a heavy vehicle workshop working with frontline maintenance operators I once introduced this successfully to use as a part of the development processes for a more efficient preventative maintenance schedule and sound preventative maintenance checklist.


PLAN an improvement. The goal at this stage is decide what needs to be done and how it best can be done. Achieve this goal by reviewing and studying the current work process and available data. This stage really involves examining the current method or the problem area. Change management tools and methods to use here include:

Customer supplier relationships analysis
Flowcharting - business process mapping
Pareto Analysis
Idea generation Sessions - Brainstorming
Value Driver Trees
Assessment matrices
Root cause and effect analysis

DO the planned activity. Implement the improvement or problem-solving plan by actually doing it. This is the implementation stage during which the plan is actually tried out in the operation. The people responsible need to be trained and equipped with the resources necessary to complete the task. This stage itself may involve a mini PDCA cycle as the problems of implementation are discovered and resolved and we begin to see if the implementation of the plan is providing results. Resources and skills required include:

Team Leader and Supervisory leadership skills
Experiment design and implementation knowledge
Operations management problems handling skills
Conflict resolution skills and
On-the-job training

CHECK the results. The new implemented solution is evaluated to see whether it has resulted in the expected performance improvement. Analyze the new data available and measure the results to see if the implementation of the plan is giving the results that it should. Change Management methodologies and tools at this stage include using:

Data check sheets,
Control charts, and
Key Performance Indicators

ACT on the results. If the implementation was successful standardize and documented the work and new processes. If the change were not successful, learn what we can from the trial, adjust where necessary to overcome problems, and formalize the new knowledge before starting the PDCA cycle over again. In starting over again we take any corrective action that is required; we lock in the positive and good outcomes and then we return to the planning stage and repeat again as necessary. Documentation may include:

Business process mapping and standardization procedures
Updating controlled reference information
New training for the standard processes

Repeat the Deming Cycle. Continue the cycle again. Plan and implement further improvements. Even better though, as we continue with the Deming Cycle we have the benefit of having new data and learned experiences from the previous cycles. We are well positioned to continue to carry out these process improvement activities and achieve ongoing results. Best of all you will not be disappointed when using this change model for successful organizational change.

Important Deming Cycle Key Points

If the process of work is automated, largely mechanical then the ability for operators to improve and implement changes is limited, and so responsibility lies more with the designers and managers of the process. However if the process is perhaps more hands on or service focused, such as a truck driver delivering coal to a quarry, then because the interaction with the customer is higher, then the ability and responsibility of the truck driver to input here for improvement is more so and necessary.

This is a particularly important point that links to the broader organizational change management. Why? Because as mentioned in my page on stakeholder analysis, we must involve the front line when considering changes and improvements, because they actually do the process and have particular requirements, and because they can influence the project outcomes. The PDCA model recognizes this.

The 'Deming cycle' benefits what is change management considerably because of its intended nature, which is of continually reviewing and changing to do better. This change model implies the never ending process or repeatedly questioning the details of our work.

Although the 'PDCA cycle' was originally developed from within a manufacturing framework, it applies to all business types. It is particularly useful for service providers for reviewing customer and supplier relationships and the inputs and outputs to those relationships and processes.

Effective use of the 'Shewhart cycle' is heavily reliant upon process design and planning and process control, process improvement initiatives and the process of obtaining gains and redesigning processes around those gains, then starting again.

Implementing The Deming Cycle / Deming Circle

Tie the planning stage into brainstorming activities and / or when undertaking idea generation sessions. This is particularly useful as a focal point for the session for generating ideas on how it should be done.

The model is worthwhile to use in many process intense environments such as for example in maintenance workshops and processing plants. At the start of a project key information may not be known, undertaking the PDCA cycle provides us with feedback, and new knowledge to justify our guesses and increase our overall working well being.

If you are finding that maybe some of your business processes are stuck in inertia, and not where you would like them to be in terms of performance. Rather than enter improvement phases and risk "analysis paralysis" searching waiting for the perfect solution, trying to get it perfect the first time. Perhaps it may be better to start with small steps. The Deming PDCA cycle provides a great guide for doing that. The PDCA approach (the plan do study act approach) can bring us closer to whatever goal we choose.

Deming Cycle Pitfalls and Limitations

Some of the pitfalls and limitations of the Deming Cycle that I have recognized when used as a guide by operators include:

1. The model does not deal with the human side of change, resistance and motivation.

2. Leadership styles when implementing the approach are overlooked.

3. Communication methods between management and operators are not considered.

4. The PDCA cycle implies that improvement becomes a part of every person's job though individuals may not be competent or sufficiently trained to do so.

5. The actual work process itself may not be well enough designed to be capable of outputting the promised level of conformance to plan, disadvantaging both the process and the operator. So therefore quality has to be built into every element of the process before delegating to individual people to improve.

6. All those responsible for implementing the PDCA cycle require good knowledge and control of the process and the improvement initiative for it to be accepted and for it to be effective.

7. The PDCA Deming cycle is limited in scope. It applies more too individual processes for improvement more so than to broader organizational changes. It does not take into account at the process face, the operational and strategic objectives of the business. It can become a process or activity working in isolation away from a broader system of initiatives.



Who is W. E. Deming

William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 - December 20, 1993) was an American statistician and professor. Among other notable careers and achievements, he is best known for his post Second World War work in Japan where he helped Japanese companies to succeed by implementing continuous improvement steps using statistical methods focused on quality.

Deming made a significant contribution to Japan's reputation for innovation and high-quality products, teaching top management how to improve design, service, product quality, and testing. He is most famous for his Plan-Do-Check-Act model and today the main quality award in Japan is named after him.

The Deming Cycle sometimes is referred to as the Shewhart Cycle. This is because Deming worked during the Second World War with the quality management pioneer Dr. Walter Shewhart who first developed the Shewhart Cycle. Later after more work by Deming it became known as the Deming Cycle.

A key belief of W. Edwards Deming was that senior management has the responsibility to remove the road blocks that inhibit the workers from making process improvements. The Deming cycle is therefore also a change management tool to assist the workers to act to improve the output of their positions




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p.s. Are you are finding that maybe some of your business processes are stuck in inertia, that things should be doing better than they are? If you think maybe the Deming cycle or a similar approach may help, and you want to discuss this further, contact me and I will reply back to you to see if we can find a solution together.








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