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Continuous improvement methods work best when time is given for appropriate planning and follow-up evaluation. One improvement tool that works well in manufacturing and industrial facilities is the PCDA Cycle. This method relies on four basic steps to target specific needs. Read on to learn how to implement the PDCA Cycle in your facility.

What Is the PDCA Cycle?

Also called the Deming or Shewhart Cycle, PDCA is a method that supports continuous improvement initiatives. Before beginning a process to target improvement, this method breaks down the project into four steps that analyze the need and effectiveness of the action using a small-scale project, which is then implemented on a larger scale or adjusted if the initial testing shows the need.

Plan

The Plan step turns an analytical eye on the problem at hand, then looks at solutions to solve the problem. After identifying a specific issue—for example, reports of damaged pallets—track how often the issue occurs and consider any related circumstances. Is the pallet damage happening during shipping, during the loading process, or while they’re still in storage? Analyze the data to determine the cause and consider potential solutions that will solve or lessen the issue.

Do

The “Do” step is when you implement small-scale changes in one area in order to test your potential solution. If you’ve decided to install floor marking tape for better visibility to reduce pallet damage from forklift strikes, you’d select a specific area to implement the change.

Check

After you’ve implemented your changes on a small scale, gather new data and compare it against your before-changes data. This gives you an idea of how well your changes have tackled the issue. For our original example, damaged pallets, consider how many pallets were damaged before your floor signs and markings were installed compared to how much damage you recorded after the updates.

If your implemented changes were successful, you should see a reduction in damage. Ensure you’re looking at other reasons the number of incidents may have been reduced as well. These may include refresher courses leading to safer work practices, changes to the workflow, or less activity in the warehouse due to the time of year.

Act

This phase—also called the “Adjust” step—depends on the results of the Check phase. If improvement is noted during the Check phase, you may consider implementing changes across a whole department, or even facility-wide. If there is no improvement, or if the situation becomes worse after you’ve made changes, you’re back to square one.

Using the pallets example, improvement may look like a 50% reduction in broken pallets and a 60% reduction in forklift strike incidents. In the case of improvement, you may choose to implement the new pallet marking procedure throughout the warehouse.

However, a negative result may look like fewer strike incidents but an increase in warehouse downtime due to tape repair. Further investigation may reveal the damage to the tape is because you’ve chosen the wrong floor markings for use in a heavily trafficked area, or the installation was done incorrectly.

In case of negative results, you may revert to the original method—or begin again with the Plan step to analyze and decide on updated methods. For example, if you find that your floor markings were not durable enough, the solution may be as simple as choosing a more durable floor marking tape rated for forklift use areas and completing the cycle again with the appropriate tape.

Note: While there are four steps in the PCDA cycle, the majority of your time will be spent between the Plan and Check phases—time is not split into perfect quarters.

Visual Cues and Tools for PCDA Success

The PCDA cycle changes depending on facility needs. A specific process update, visual cue, or tool may solve your problem once, but future fixes may require a different approach. This is why the “Plan” step is crucial: To solve a problem, you must understand why it happens and what solutions are available to you. It’s not simply a reaction—it begins with an investigation to help determine the appropriate action.

Adjusting packaging materials may solve in-transit damage, resulting in fewer product returns and happier customers. Similarly, updating a visitor check-in process to use a smartphone app could improve overall security while addressing reception staffing shortages and visitor wait time.

Depending on the concerns and goals within the facility, some adjustments that may be implemented during the PCDA cycle include:

  • Physical changes: You may update the work floor using physical barriers, adjusting traffic patterns, changing the production workflow, or creating no-vehicle zones to improve safety.
  • Improve visibility: Reflective tape can bring attention to vehicles and machinery, loading dock edges, and areas where increased awareness is necessary.
  • Warehousing updates: Aisle width markings, protective bumpers, and virtual lines and signs may help reduce damage and collisions in busy warehouse areas.
  • Organization improvements: Assigned forklift parking spaces, Red Tag holding areas, and clearly marked storage areas can keep clutter under control, prevent safety hazards, and improve productivity.
  • Visual guidance: Glow-in-the-dark floor markings may improve navigation during an emergency or power outage, while color-coded taped lines provide visual communication and directional cues for employees and visitors alike.

The PCDA cycle can be tailored to address a range of goals in industrial or manufacturing locations. Consider the problem, discuss potential solutions, implement small-scale changes, and evaluate the results before expanding or starting over. Explore our Resource Center for more information about this continuous improvement method and other strategies.