Practical tips on how to use the PDCA cycle

Continue building upon the previous iteration until you get to a deliverable you’re happy with. After you complete these steps, it’s time to tackle the next cycle. In the iterative process, the product goes back to step one to build on what’s working. This iterative development, sometimes called circular or evolutionary development, is based on refining the first version through subsequent cycles, especially as you gather and include requirements.

  • Peter Skillman, of Palm, Inc., invented the Marshmallow Challenge, which started as a team-building exercise to offer lessons in collaboration and creativity.
  • Nawras Skhmot, is a Norwegian civil engineer and entrepreneur with an educational background from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and UC Berkeley.
  • If it didn’t work as planned, go back to step three and brainstorm another solution.
  • Defining the process is an essential prerequisite for improving the process.
  • The first step in any process improvement initiative is to figure out where you are today.
  • For example, the term «define» in Six Sigma removes the human element, and the term «measure» puts the focus on data.

As you develop new iterations, conduct a systematic review to ensure the new versions are compatible with previous iterations. Be prepared for any backward engineering to integrate new iterations with previous versions. The iterative model is an alternative to the Waterfall approach, which relies on sequential steps. When using Waterfall, it’s difficult to quickly address development or design inefficiencies, but iteration gives developers more flexibility to swiftly incorporate changes. Continual improvement is the beating heart of service management, and by understanding and following the guiding principles, an organization can maximise its chances for continual improvement success. Embody the core messages of ITIL and of service management in general, supporting successful actions and good decisions of all types at all levels.

In practical terms, think of it as practice to make your product perfect. At the «Check» stage in PDCA, the team needs to audit its plan’s execution and see if its initial plan worked. In contrast, the «Study» stage in PDSA aims to analyze in depth the results of any change applied at each step, ensuring long-term process improvements.

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. Information is gathered and evaluated, symptoms are identified, and outcomes or treatments are suggested. Clinicians later evaluate their patients’ changes and adjust treatments. Iteration occurs by reviewing the data and connecting it to emerging insights. Scientists design a hypothesis, test it, note their conclusions, and then use those insights to influence the next hypothesis.

What Is Meant by the “Iterative Process”?

And—whether or not you implement the iterative method—always strive for continuous improvement in your work. During this step in the iterative process, you will define your project plan and align on your overall project objectives. This is the stage where you will outline any hard requirements—things that must happen in order for your project to succeed. Without this step, you run the risk of iterating but not hitting your goals. You might be surprised to realize that most product development is very iterative. Think of any personal technology you’ve ever purchased for yourself—there was likely a previous version before the one you bought, and maybe a version afterwards, as well.

  • It’s a deliberate process that requires observation, analysis, planning, and action.
  • Project management software will save you the hassle of having to manually track spreadsheets and documents, which quickly lead to time-consuming admin work you could probably do without.
  • The planning, requirements, specifications, and documentation during the project are highly controlled.
  • Remember to work through each stage in its entirety, and use tools that help you automatically track and record your results.
  • In her spare time, she’s usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

Remember this is not a one-time thing as you will need to be on your toes continuously if you want to implement continual improvement in your system. For example, imagine you’re working with a design agency to create an ebook. Finally, your internal team will copyedit the designed ebook to make sure everything looks ok. This is an example of the waterfall model because each phase relies on the previous step (i.e. you can’t copyedit the designed ebook until it’s been designed). The iterative process is one of those words that, like Agile, automatically makes us think of engineering teams.


Continual improvement has been described as a managerial concept that is the objective of every business entity. For more tips, read our article on 25 essential project management skills. When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.

Stages of Business Growth

It seems they are more inclined to start with a simple design, test the prototype, and iterate until they find a solution that works. The adults tend to spend their time competing for leadership of the project, arguing about the right plan, and then running out of time to build the tower. Tom Wujec from Autodesk talks about the research in this TED talk. Peter Skillman, of Palm, Inc., invented the Marshmallow Challenge, which started as a team-building exercise to offer lessons in collaboration and creativity. In the challenge, teams are give 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and one marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to build a tower that will hold the marshmallow on top.

#4. Software Companies

At the beginning of any contract, ensure that you have a hourly or market rate if the project veers too far off scope or time. Even if the project changes for good reasons, both you and the vendor must be willing to be flexible rather than stick to a schedule or scope that defeats the whole point of iterating. Qualitative research is a process that gathers data through observations, interviews, surveys, and documents to find the «human» side of a topic. Because this approach involves people’s opinions, values, and behaviors, it requires the flexibility of the iterative process. Rather than focusing on a final, completed project, work in iterations that focus on completed subparts.

The model supports an iterative approach to improvement, dividing work into manageable pieces with separate goals that can be achieved incrementally. The goal of continuous improvement is to create a better product or service for your customers. So, it’s important to keep them in mind when you’re making changes. The Agile Iterative Approach best suits products or businesses with a continuously evolving scope, with no defined requirements intended for a limited time. For such cases, the Agile Iterative Approach helps to minimize the cost and resources needed each time an unforeseen change occurs due to its flexibility, innovation, fast, and modifiability. In addition, the approach allows customers to be involved during the development process, leaving no place for retroactive changes to be made after deliverables are released.

History of PDCA

The planning, requirements, specifications, and documentation during the project are highly controlled. Many companies experiment with design Darwinism, the idea that products, like evolution, will cycle through a series of incremental changes and nearly design themselves. But without other layers in the process, such as strategic design and interaction design, these products may fail because they don’t address the real needs of users.

During the check phase, the data and results gathered from the do phase are evaluated. Data is compared to the expected outcomes to see any similarities and differences. The testing process is also evaluated to see if there were any changes from the original test created during the planning phase. If the data is placed in a chart it can make it easier to see any trends if the plan–do–check–act cycle is conducted multiple times. This helps to see what changes work better than others and if said changes can be improved as well. Both PDCA and Kaizen strive for continuous improvement through small, incremental changes and creating an organizational culture of Lean thinkers and problem-solvers.

NASA adopted the iterative model in the 1960s with Project Mercury and has continued its use through the Space Shuttle project, as well as for working with the U.S. The best way to encourage continuous improvement is to create a culture that supports it. Encourage employee involvement by asking for and receiving feedback. After you’ve implemented your solution, it’s time to see if it worked. Ragone says this is the most important step in all forms of process improvement. In addition to reducing waste, continuous improvement can also help you save money in other ways.