Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

The concept of planning, doing, checking, and acting or plan-do-check-act (PDCA) occurs throughout everyday life. We’ve never thought much of it. However, it suddenly sounds sophisticated, complex and even intimidating as an acronym at the start of an industry-recommended practice (RP) – one that may be referenced in state or federal regulations.

Before we look at the RP, let’s look at real day-to-day examples to see how commonly it is applied:

Traveling to a destination

Following the PDCA cycle, we first plan where to travel through research or suggestions of others and then book our trip. Next, we go on and experience the trip – the doing part. After we return home, there’s a period of reflection and sharing with others what you enjoyed and maybe what you didn’t. This is the check part leading to continual improvement. Finally, we act on continual improvement. Whether returning to the same destination or travelling to a new one, you are sure to have an even better trip.

Another example is buying a vehicle

After deciding whether a new vehicle is needed, planning starts. Through the planning phase, one is thinking about the type of vehicle, how the vehicle will be used, financing, and more. Then you buy a new vehicle and during this do phase, you select colors and features. Next, driving the new vehicle is a natural check component. Then, you act on that experience for the next time.

The examples are endless of how everyone follows PDCA in almost everything they do.

Now, let’s look at RP 1162.

The examples above are closely related to activities or projects, but what about a program like public awareness? It happens the same way; however, the cycle is ongoing with programs. For the 3rd edition of RP 1162, the structure follows PDCA to create, implement, measure and continually improve public awareness. It starts with planning the program’s goals, objectives, and targets. Next, it moves to implement the plan. After implementation (do), checking or assessing is an important phase in the cycle to see if the goals, objectives and targets were met. The last phase is learning and continually improving the next plan for the next iteration, which is known as act.

Note: There is no ‘act’ section on this guidance site, just as there is no “act” section in the RP itself, as taking action to change or improve a program (or parts of a program) can occur at any point in the program cycle.

In public awareness program management, the cycle continues in a recurring, iterative manner to achieve continual improvement. The diagram included here, from the RP, shows the phases, also known as steps.

In summary, PDCA is a cycle enabling efficiency where continual improvement is at the core. Or, as said, “PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) is an iterative design and management method used in business for the control and continual improvement of processes and products.”[1]

[1] Tague, Nancy R. (2005) [1995]. “Plan–Do–Study–Act cycle”The quality toolbox (2nd ed.). Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press. pp. 390–392. ISBN 978-0873896399OCLC 57251077.