Shall we do anything; we always stand in front of some form of problem. If there is a goal, there is also a problem.

To comply with new customer’s needs, improve product’s quality, lower the scrap made during a machine set up, create a plan for successful company goals achievement, gain better position on market or even to reach better salary, lose weight or to win at Olympics.

In all of these situations we stand face to face to a problem.

PROBLEM can be defined as a gap between our current state and the state in which we should or want to be at .

For instance – we are making errors in some part of our process (current state) and thus we are not meeting our standards (state we should be at). Or, our customer newly demands a shorter lead time and so we are being put in front of a problem again (state we want to be at).

For us to be able to solve our problems most effectively and in the shortest time possible, it is always best, if we know what we are doing.

Spend energy only on the problems with clear priority – the ones which have big and real influence on reaching our goals and not to spend it on problems that seem important, but which have no real effect on our development.

Solve problems to their end. Don’t just plaster the visible flash wounds, but search more deep and operate until you find the source of inner bleeding – find and heal the root causes.

And for that reason, so we can be sure we follow the right path to solve and resolve problems – to secure our continuous development – came to life an approach called PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act).

PDCA is on one side a practical approach, i.e. in carries some kind of methodology with it; a procedure which is important to follow. It guides us through the process of our problem solving, thank to which we won’t get lost and would know how to proceed at all times.

Word PRACTICAL is described as: relating to practice or action, real, true, mindful of the results, having sense for reality, useful.

However, what people tend to forget is that it is also a scientific approach. We are going to cover that in a different article though.

Let us look at the PDCA a little bit closer:

PDCA – practical approach

As you already know, PDCA is an abbreviation of words, which represent individual phases of the whole PDCA cycle:


Plan is the most robust and also the most important phase of PDCA. Time-wise, from my own experience, in most cases you would spend half the project’s time, sometimes even more, in this particular phase.

And it makes sense, when we take a look at what is all covered by the Plan phase:

  • Problem definition and description
  • Current state description
  • Formulation of the future state
  • Root cause analysis
  • Formulation of hypothesis and stakeholders identification
  • Countermeasures proposal and effects prognosis
  • Acquiring of stakeholder approval for countermeasures implementation

It is really important to take your time and conscientiously go through each step above. Otherwise you may find yourself with not enough information to formulate effective countermeasures or it can even happen that you’ll drift off totally – solving different problem than necessary.

If you want to truly resolve your problem, pay the Plan phase your maximum effort.

Later, you’ll find being thorough at the Plan phase of immense benefit, because it would help you to reduce the resistance for your planned change in a great way.


This is an implementation phase, where you bring to life the countermeasures and build the physical shape of your future state.

In this phase, it is not only necessary to make sure, you are doing things the way they were planned, but also to register every step you have made.

You need to count with the fact, that your improvements would not have such an effect as previously planned (and may be, they’ll turn thing even worse – been there, done that, trust me) and in that case, you’ll do better if you return to the original state.

This is the reason why I recommend you to have an effect prediction for each countermeasure. According to this metric you would then measure how effective you were.


Examination of how successful you were in your current state improvement, resp. in closing the gap (solving your problem).

Observe, examine and measure whether you did a good job in previous PDCA phases and whether the countermeasures were effective.

Do not merely measure the overall effect of your countermeasures altogether, but better – measure the effect of each countermeasure individually. Only then you’d be able to tell by which action was your problem really affected.

You may even discover that some of your actions carried no effect at all.


In quotes “the last” phase of the PDCA cycle. Same as with the P phase, this one is in many cases not only underdone, but mainly not fully understood.

Act is phase where we apply actions necessary to sustain our confirmed improvement and to see it fully integrated in the life of all people touched by the change (stakeholders) that was made.

In case of process improvement in the manufacturing environment it could mean to create a brand new standard of work. When you lose weight, this would be the phase when you adopt new eating habits, so you won’t gain fat again. Or, when you fulfill you customer’s new requirements, you need to follow up with your actions so you won’t return to your previous normal right after the first order and then fall into the vicious cycle of claims and complaints.

But you’re still not finished yet. PDCA counts on you to keep developing further.

So in this Act phase, you not only standardize your existing successes, but you should also search for possibilities to move onward.

You seek answers for questions like:

  • Where can we move further?
  • Who else should know about our successes?
  • Who may have more benefit from what we have achieved?
  • Who may help us expand?
  • Who else is being affected by our success/the change?
  • Who may need our help with adaptation to the new state?

Understand that by achieving the goal metric level is not the end. There are many more activities waiting for you to begin with.

What is necessary to say is that PDCA is not a full closed cycle, but rather a spiral of infinite, mutually connected PDCA cycles.

Infinite development and innovation. That is what PDCA teaches us and where it leads us… But we are also not finished yet. We should take a look at PDCA’s scientific approach to problem solving, which we’ll clarify inthe second part of this article.

As I wrote at the beginning, all of us who want to grow and develop have problems. And the more problems we solve, the more problems we find ahead of us. That is the reason why it is mandatory to learn how to handle problems in the most effective way, so we are not afraid of new problems, but so we welcome them with arm wide open. Because only the NEW problems are the true sign of growth and development.

Learn as well, how YOU can handle problems effectively and let us offer you our help in the process. Sign up for our A3/PDCA – Problem Solving Expert training.

We’ll not only give you the necessary know how so you and your people can become skilled problem solvers, but we’ll also teach you the method called A3, which is being used to solve problems, propose solutions and develop people into true leaders.

Author: Josef Procházka, ICG Slovakia