Posted by: JC Gatlin | December 31, 2009

The Anatomy of PDCA: Breaking the PDCA Cycle Down into 7 steps

The PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Adjust) is broken down into 7 steps.

Problem Statement

The Problem Statement is a clear, concise and measurable description of waste, rework or deviation from a standard (the norm). It should explain WHO is experiencing the problem, WHEN they experienced the problem, and WHERE they experienced the problem. The description must be measurable, and should refer to the standard.

Goal Statement

The Goal Statement is the clear, concise, measurable and attainable objective. It must include a precise target date to accomplish the goal. The Goal Statement must mirror the problem statement.

Point of Cause

Think Cause and Effect. If the problem is waste or the deviation from standard, then the point of cause is the physical time and/or location the deviation is occurring. Apply the Because Equation to the problem to help define the Point of Cause (The problem occurs BECAUSE of the point of cause).

Root Causes

The root cause is the underlying reason – often hidden or obscure – that is creating the problem. If the PDCA does not identify and eliminate the true root cause (or causes, there could be several of them) then the problem will most likely come back. You get to root causes through 5-Why Analysis and other PDCA tools.

Counter Measures

Counter measures — the “do” phase of the PDCA — are the actions the PDCA group will take to eliminate the root causes, and ultimately prevent the problem from recurring. These actions are specific activities that have a clear function, a beginning and an end. Each counter measure must tie back to a root cause, and each counter measure must support achieving the goal statement. A counter measure must have a begin date and a target date (or expected date to complete).  One member of the PDCA group is responsible for ensuring the counter measure is implemented by the target date; that group member may only assist in doing the actual work or many not even be involved in the actual work, but he or she is ultimately responsible to ensure that it happens.

Follow Up

This is the “Check and Adjust” phase of the PDCA. When the group first plans the counter measures to be taken, they should schedule a time to return to check on their success. This can be a week into the future, a month, six months, a year – depending on the target date set in the goal statement. If the counter measures were successful, standardize. If the problem still exists – which happens – then adjust. That may mean simply modifying the counter measure or stepping back and reviewing the Point of Cause and Root Causes. 

Follow-up is often the most ignored step in a PDCA cycle, and is arguably the most critical.


Standardization is developing the logistics of the process so that work is performed the same way across communities, companies, cities and states. Standardization includes communication and education. The group communicates the standard through sharing the PDCA, creating a Standardized Work Instruction Sheet (SWIS), creating a Value Stream or Process Map, updating a manual, among other tools. The group educates through reviewing a SWIS at a team meeting, creating a certification program, one-on-one coaching, and so on.  

© December 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo


  1. Nice Simple Explanation. Unfortunately I think many skip step 1 and 7. They fail to define the problem probably which causes delays and countermeasures which don’t address the root. Those who skip standardization to sustain the gains they make and end up with more problems.

    I am going to share this with some colleagues. Thanks for sharing here.

    Tim McMahon
    A Lean Journey

  2. I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Just thought you’d be interested to know that I have added you to my bookmarks You make 100% right points in a concise and pertinent fashion, This is a really good read for me, thank you for your time.

  3. I’m glad to see you so dedicated to integrating PDCA into your thoughts and actions. It seems to be a very consistent them with your content. Awesome.

    Most people shy away from using the phrase “countermeasure.” To most, countermeasure appears temporary, while solution sounds very permanent. Permanent sounds better to most people. But the problem is when we “solve” something we put it out of mind. We are done with it, forever. With a countermeasure, it’s just the best we can do “right now.” We may come up with something better in the future, or we may not. But we leave ourselves open to the possibility.

    I certainly prefer the latter in terms of attitude. I don’t so much care if people adopt the language, but if it helps, I think countermeasure is a good word to be using.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  4. I enjoy reading the valuable information you offer in your articles.I enjoying reading your post. You make 100% right points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, thank you very much for writing this

  5. I liked it. I have a similar approach, but, I see I forgot standardization. I’ll correct soon.

  6. Great articles

  7. […] it from a fresh perspective. First, he tied the problem to wasted money, which gives the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle that much more strength and impact. (Not to discount the motion and over-processing waste, or the […]

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