Plan Do Check Act and A3

October 1, 2010
By Darren Dolcemascolo

Developed by Shewhart, PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) is a well-known cycle or process for planning and implementing improvements. It is a critical component of lean or the Toyota Production System and should be used (in some form) for any problem solving or continuous improvement project. In fact, one can argue that DMAIC, the Six Sigma process of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control, is based on the more simple PDCA cycle. In this article, we will define PDCA in the context of lean problem solving.

PDCA has four basic components:

Plan: The plan portion of PDCA includes developing an action plan for improvement. in the context of problem solving, this would include all of the following major components:

  • Defining a problem.
  • Performing a root cause analysis of the problem utilizing tools and concepts such as the 5 Why's, a fishbone diagram, and other qualitative or quantitative tools.
  • Considering alternative solutions and settling on a solution or set of solutions to implement that will address the problem.
  • Developing a plan to implement the solution(s).

  • Do: The Do portion of PDCA is implementation. One of the 14 principles of the Toyota Way as defined by Jeffrey Liker includes the idea of rapid implementation. The Plan portion of PDCA should be done very methodically and by building consensus; the Do portion should be rapid.

    Check: The Check step is similar to the Control phase of a Six Sigma project; it includes verification that the solution is working. This is done by continuing to monitor and study the effects of what was done in the "Do" phase.

    Act: The Act phase of PDCA includes two major components:

  • Making necessary adjustments to solutions and action plan based on what was discovered during the Check phase.
  • Identifying future steps related to the problem/area being addressed.
  • A problem solving project is very often reported on utilizing A3 reporting. A3 refers to the 11 X 17 paper size, and A3 reports are used to tell entire stories using graphs, pictures, and limited verbiage on one sheet of 11 X 17 paper. While they can be used for more than just PDCA problem solving, they are most commonly used for this purpose. In such cases, A3 reports would include the following information:

  • Problem Description and Definition
  • Problem Analysis
  • Implementation Plan
  • Results
  • Future Steps

  • Understanding PDCA and A3 reporting is important for any lean practitioner; however, there are alternative to consider as well. For those who prefer the DMAIC process of Six Sigma, it can be used in place of PDCA. In any case, however, there must be some problem solving methodology in place for a lean organization to be successful.

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