PDSA: A Magnificent Tool for Learning, Improvement and Innovation

In order to stay ahead in today’s ever-changing world organisations need to constantly strive to improve processes, products, and services.

A great tool for assisting us is the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model and this blog explores how PDSA can be a magnificent tool for learning, improvement, and innovation.

But first, is it PDSA or PDCA?


Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) and Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) are both methodologies used to improve processes and products. Both are iterative and both involve a continuous cycle of improvement.  The PDCA cycle was developed by Dr. Walter A. Shewhart, an American physicist, in the 1930s.  His protégé, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, substituted “Study” for “Check” sometime in the 1950s. So, what’s the difference?

If there is a difference, it is perhaps that PDCA was used to improve existing processes and products by identifying and eliminating defects and errors and the PDSA cycle is more focused on testing new ideas and making improvements to existing processes and products.

However, we have a much more basic reason preferring the word “study” over the word “check”:

  • Check is cursory – “Yeah I had look, it’s alright”
  • Study is deeper – it means properly thinking about something. It suggests scratching your head and thinking long and hard

What is PDSA?

The PDSA cycle is a systematic approach to continuous improvement. It is a framework for developing, testing and implementing changes that (hopefully) leads to an improvement and the four stages are:

  • Plan: In this stage, you identify the problem or opportunity for improvement and develop a plan to address it. This includes setting clear objectives, defining the scope of the project, and outlining the steps required to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Do: Once the plan is in place you carry out your planned changes on a small scale. Large scale actions tend to large scale consequences, good and bad. This initially small scale approach allows you to test the effectiveness of the changes in a controlled environment before ratcheting things up and rolling out on a larger scale.
  • Study: During this stage, you collect data and analyse the results of the changes you have made. This helps you to understand whether or not the changes have led to the desired improvements and identify any areas that require further refinement. Some changes are merely that just that, changes, not improvements.
  • Act: Based on the findings from the study stage you then make informed decisions about whether to adopt, adapt, or abandon the changes. If the changes have been successful, they can be implemented more widely. If not you go back to the planning stage and make further adjustments. If the changes have worked the next question is:
    • Do you want to make further changes and improvements to the same process or would time be better spent codifying the changes that have been made by drawing those into the ISO policies and procedures and then moving on to another improvement project?

 Benefits of PDSA

The PDSA cycle offers several benefits that make it a magnificent tool for learning, improvement, and innovation:

  • Structured Learning: By following the PDSA cycle you can systematically test your ideas; new products, processes, practises and systems and learn from both successful and unsuccessful changes. This structured approach to learning helps build knowledge and expertise within your company.
  • Continuous Improvement: The iterative nature of PDSA allows you to continuously refine your ideas and make incremental improvements over time. This results in enhanced efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction.
  • Innovation: The PDSA cycle encourages you to experiment with new ideas and approaches. By testing these ideas on a small scale before full implementation, you can identify innovative solutions that drive growth and competitive advantage.
  • Engagement and Empowerment: The PDSA cycle seeks to promote employee engagement by involving your people in the problem-solving and decision-making processes. This empowers them to contribute their ideas and take ownership of improvement initiatives.


The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is indeed a magnificent tool for learning, improvement, and innovation.  Its structured approach enables you to learn from your experiences, continuously improve your processes, foster innovation, and empower your people.

By embracing PDSA you can stay ahead of the curve in today’s competitive environment.

Remember: “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” So why not choose growth by embracing PDSA?


Related tools and ideas

Recommended references

Downloadable resources

More Insights