Occupational Safety

The PDCA cycle

Plan-Do-Check-Act: Your baseline for continuous improvement

7 minutes09/08/2023

In today's dynamic working world, it is crucial for companies and organizations to continuously develop and constantly optimize their processes. A proven tool that is particularly suitable for this purpose is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, also known as the PDCA cycle or Deming cycle. Developed by the renowned statistician and quality management expert Dr. W. Edwards Deming, this cycle has become a cornerstone of effective management systems and continuous improvement.

The following article examines the PDCA cycle in detail and highlights its importance in improving efficiency, quality, and safety in various work areas. From planning to implementation, review, and adaptation, we will explore the steps of this cyclical approach and demonstrate how businesses can benefit from its application. Navigate through the directory to access questions and topics:

Where did the idea of the PDCA cycle come from?

The idea of the PDCA cycle dates back to the 1930s and was developed by American physicist Walter Andrew Shewhart. Even then, he used it as a tool to continuously improve the quality of output in companies by repeatedly applying the four-phase process.

Based on this model, the physicist William Edwards Deming developed the Deming Circle, or PDCA cycle, and used it to rebuild the Japanese economy after World War II. The two pioneers of quality management also published specialist literature on the systematic study of production processes, making the PDCA cycle accessible to the general public.

Definition of the PDCA cycle

The PDCA cycle is also known as the Deming Circle, Deming Wheel, or Shewhart Cycle. The four-stage control loop is an essential tool in the continuous improvement process (CIP) and supports the optimization of products and services as well as the root cause analysis. It consists of the phases Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

Sequence of the PDCA cycle


The first step is to analyze the status quo of an identified problem area, such as a process. This is done on a cross-departmental basis to identify potential and define sources of error. Based on this, the desired target state, metrics and actions to achieve the defined process goal are formulated.


This is followed by the "do", i.e., the implementation of the planned measures. By trying out improvement approaches, important insights are gained that form the basis for further process optimization.


The goal is to compare the results of the actions with the targets and to review and analyze the optimized process. This requires all employees to function as actors and observers. If necessary, the measures can or must be adjusted.


In the final phase, the findings are evaluated and standards for future procedures are derived. These are incorporated into process descriptions and employee training. Further improvement cycles can be based on these standards.

The PDCA cycle is a continuous, repetitive process of goal planning, action implementation and results analysis. It is used to establish new routines in the company in order to prevent the recurrence of the root problem or to exploit the potential for improvement.

The importance of the PDCA cycle for companies

In the world of management system standards, so-called Harmonized Structures (HS) have played a special role since 2012. Formerly known as the High-Level Structure (HLS), they represent the basic requirements that apply to all management systems and contain important conceptual definitions. The HS forms the solid foundation on which all ISO standardized management systems developed or revised since 2012 are built.

A central aspect of the HS is its integration of the PDCA cycle in chapters 4-10, which is essential for the smooth functioning and successful integration of management systems. It enables companies to plan their processes (Plan), implement them effectively (Do), check the results (Check), and adjust if necessary (Act). This unified structure based on the PDCA cycle enables companies to seamlessly combine different management systems such as quality management (ISO 9001), environmental management (ISO 14001), occupational health and safety (ISO 45001) and others into an integrated management system. This leads to more effective use of resources and improved collaboration across all departments.

The PDCA cycle in quality management

The international standard for implementing an operational quality management system (QMS) is ISO 9001, which was revised in 2015 to the Harmonized Structure (HS). The great advantage of this standardization is that organizations only need to familiarize themselves with the basic structure and requirements of a management system once and can then focus on the specific design of the system. This simplifies the implementation and integration of new systems.

Chapters 4-10 describe the requirements for the QMS to implement a continuous improvement process based on the PDCA cycle:


The Plan phase lays the foundation of the QMS and plans its processes. It includes chapters 4-6 of ISO 9001 and requires defining the framework for the QMS (chapter 4), clarifying the responsibilities of top management (chapter 5), and planning the direction of the QMS (chapter 6).


The Do phase includes chapters 7 and 8 of ISO 9001, where requirements are defined for the organization-wide implementation of the QMS (chapter 7) and for the quality-compliant execution of the planned processes throughout the entire product life cycle (chapter 8).


The Check phase covers chapter 9 and defines the requirements for checking the effectiveness of the QMS from operational monitoring, measurement, analysis, and evaluation of process and product quality to systematic auditing and management evaluation of the QMS.


The Act phase is described in chapter 10. It focuses on the importance of continuous improvement of the QMS to ensure continued fulfillment of customer requirements and increase customer satisfaction.

PDCA cycle as an tool for motivating employees

The PDCA cycle enables employees to identify and solve problems independently. Only by creating a culture of continuous improvement of internal company processes can quality and performance be optimized in the long term. This requires the right attitude from each employee. Easy-to-use tools such as the PDCA cycle increase personal responsibility and motivation.

The PDCA cycle should be repeated several times in order to achieve long-term improvements. All employees can increase the added value for the company through the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP). This method is an effective way to improve interdepartmental cooperation and employee satisfaction.

The effectiveness of the PDCA cycle using the example of printing errors

A company that sells its products through a catalog notices more and more printing errors: wrong color codes for the safety signs, wrong texts, only the image files are set correctly. The PDCA cycle begins.


Everyone involved in the catalog is identified. It is also noted when the errors occurred and on which pages. A zero-error test run of a catalog print is defined as the goal, and measures are discussed on to how to achieve it. This also includes a root cause analysis.

Do :

Test printing begins and the process is analyzed. The print shop and the product department, consisting of product planning, text, and graphics, are followed up. The result: The faulty pages are set by a newly hired graphic designer. In a conversation with him, it is discovered that although he speaks German very well, he can hardly read it - for example, color codes were not transferred correctly, and if the image and text did not match, it was not noticed. He is trained to read and write colloquial and technical language. He is also encouraged to ask the other graphic designers for clarification.


The test print was made and the error rate was reduced to 3%. The analysis showed that the one-time short training is not sufficient, but for the operational work pocket cards or signs with handling and technical vocabulary are helpful, which the graphic designer can access during the entire process and can linguistically reassure himself.


It was established as a standard that graphic designers with insufficient knowledge of German receive training in colloquial and technical language before starting work, which also includes a fixed number of internships. In addition, multilingual information signs were posted at the graphic design workstations. It was also decided that each catalog would be reviewed by the department management before printing.

Attentive behavior by the entire department and continuous planning, implementation, review, and action, can eliminate printing errors in the long term.

PDCA cycle example in occupational health and safety

The Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) is also an important topic in the area of occupational health and safety, as it involves the systematic reduction of workplace hazards in order to ensure and improve occupational health and safety in the long term. A classic application of the PDCA philosophy in occupational safety and health management is risk assessment.

PDCA cycle example in occupational health and safety risk assessment

  • Plan:

    The safety specialist and/or process managers identify and assess the hazards relevant to the work area and determine protective measures, considering the state of the art and the priority of the STOP principle.

  • Do:

    The planned measures are implemented.

  • Check:

    The effectiveness of the actions is reviewed and follow-up actions are defined, if necessary.

  • Act:

    Based on the findings, the risk assessment is updated (e.g., in the event of changes in operational or inter-operational conditions), which is then the starting point for restarting the PDCA cycle with the PLAN phase.

In addition, the PDCA cycle in occupational health and safety management can be initiated for identified problems (e.g., inadequate use of personal protective equipment, insufficient cleanliness and order in the workplace or company) or opportunities for improvement (optimization of company integration management or health management offerings).

Advantages of the PCDA cycle

The PDCA cycle is characterized by its simple application and flexible adaptation. It should also be emphasized that the PDCA cycle requires little guidance due to its simple structure. Companies benefit from the fact that the circular concept enables continuous improvement and that the PDCA cycle can be used as a basis for control as well as for analysis.

Challenges in implementation

The PDCA cycle is a management approach that iteratively identifies and eliminates errors. The steps are not set in stone, so each company must define them for its own use case in order to avoid misunderstandings. It is important to note that the PDCA cycle does not aim for a quick solution to a problem, but for a long-term and well-founded optimization.


The PDCA cycle can be used to address problem areas and opportunities for improvement in a focused and orderly manner. This involves working across departments to effectively identify the weakness and help everyone involved to improve it. In doing so, work processes are improved through simple and flexible adaptation. The PDCA concept is not only applicable to individual processes, but also to the entire management system.