The PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) Technique for Quality Improvement

What is the PDSA Technique ?

The PDSA or the Plan-Do-Study-Act technique is a famous QI or Quality Improvement Tool or Initiative that helps organizations enhance the quality of their products and services. The PDSA technique hinges on the iterative process wherein each cycle begins with planning the quality improvement, actualizing the method or the process for QI, studying the results to determine whether the QI was successful or not, and then acting upon the feedback for the next cycle to incorporate such feedback.

Definitions

As the literature mentions, “The PDSA Cycle is a systematic series of steps for gaining valuable learning and knowledge for the continual improvement of a product or process. Also known as the Deming Wheel, or Deming Cycle, the concept and application was first introduced to Dr. Deming by his mentor, Walter Shewhart of the famous Bell Laboratories in New York” (Deming.org).

This means that the emphasis on continuous improvement of products and services through iterative cycles starting with planning and then performing the steps needed to enhance the quality, studying the results to determine what went right and what went wrong, and lastly, incorporating the feedback into the next cycle to make the process better lies at the heart of the PDSA technique.

Plan-Do-Study-Act Technique

(Source: https://www.deming.org/theman/theories/pdsacycle)

Components of the PDSA Technique

As the figure above demonstrates, the PDSA Cycle starts with the Plan step that entails identifying a goal or an objective and then formulating a plan of action wherein the success metrics or the measures that indicate the determination of the success of the plan are defined followed by a well thought-out strategy to put the plan into action.

Next is the Do Step wherein the actual implementation of the strategies of the plan is done.

After that is the Study Step wherein the outcomes of the implementation are monitored and measured and the determination of the success or otherwise of the plan is made.

The final step is the Act phase wherein the feedback from the previous step is integrated into the learning from the entire process and then based on the same, the goals are adjusted as well as the methods changed to ensure the success of the next iteration and this can also include reformulation or recalibration of the strategy altogether.

What Each Step in the PDSA Technique Means and How Each Step Manifests

To explain in plain words, the first step in the PDSA cycle is the planning phase where the needed process improvements are finalized in line with the overall goals and objectives for which the process improvement or Quality Improvement is needed.

Usually, this step is the phase when organizations recognize the need for Quality Improvement and determine the parameters or the measurements that are required to achieve the objectives.

The next step is the Doing phase where the planned improvements are put in place, and the process for the manufacture of the product or the service is modified and enhanced according to the desired goals.

For instance, if the purpose of the Quality Improvement initiative is to decrease the number of defects as measured by percentages to less than 3%, the planning phase determines this measure as well as formulates the needed improvements to the process to ensure that defects are kept within the range.

The Do step is the phase when the manufacturing process is enhanced by actualizing the process improvements that are needed to keep the defects within the range. This step is the meat of the PDSA cycle wherein it is the phase where the actual work to enhance quality is done. This is followed by the Study step wherein the results from the QI are measured to determine whether the process improvement yielded the necessary results.

Taking a Real World Example and Applying Theory to Practice

For instance, in our example, once the process improvement has been put in place, the Study Phase reviews the feedback in terms of whether the goals of keeping the percentage of defects to less than 3% have been met. In case such measures are found to have not been met, then the possible reasons for failure as well as the corrective steps and measures needed to achieve the goals in the next step are the determined.

This can take the form of studying the process to see how it can be improved the next time. The Study step is also the step where the entire cycle is matched from beginning to end and the determination of success or failure are done accordingly. Indeed, if the QI meets its objectives, then there is no need to repeat the cycle and the final step, which is the Act Phase, can then close out the changes and make them permanent.

However, in case it is found that the QI did not meet its objectives, the “Act” step provides the opportunity to put corrective measures in place by studying the feedback about what went wrong and then acting upon the feedback by starting the next iteration again from the Planning Step all the way to the end step which is the Acting on the feedback step.

Conclusion: How Implementing the PDSA Technique can help Organizations

In this way, the PDSA technique is an iterative or cyclical process that repeats itself until the desired results are actualized. Since each iteration improves upon the previous cycle, the end result of successive iterations is that the Quality of the Product or Service is significantly enhanced to the point where more enhancements are not needed and the process for making the product or service is deemed to be of the highest quality.

In this way, the PDSA technique offers a good way to put in place quality improvement initiatives that yield the desired results and ensure that the process is free from defects.


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