How would you use the PDSA cycle in your personal life?

In the business world, PDSA — Plan, Do, Study, Act — are steps toward continuous improvement of processes and products. The PDSA Cycle is also called the Deming Cycle, honoring the man who put together a smart plan for Total Quality Management, American statistician W. Edward Deming.

Deming believed in the value of making things better with constant effort over time, rather than churning out quick profits with cheaper materials, second-rate service, and uninterested employees. He shuddered at the notion that mistakes, time lags, poor workmanship, and inferior goods could ever be considered acceptable.

Deming's PDSA Cycle requires action and involvement at all levels of organizations. In simplified terms, here's what each part of PDSA stands for:

  • Plan: Look ahead for the long term. Figure out the options and envision how they are likely to turn out if they're put into play.
  • Do: Make things happen in a way that can be observed and understood.
  • Study: Take a look at results of actions that were planned and put into motion.
  • Act: Make a standard practice of what works; keep working on what doesn't.

Although the PDSA model focuses on business and industry, quality commitment is a natural part of people's personal lives, too. Our roles as students, parents, working adults, team members, or individuals can get stuck if we miss out on finding ways to make them better. 

Think about a task as basic as passing a difficult course. (Surely, you've had at least one challenging class you've considered dropping, rather than enduring.)  Your PDSA approach might look something like this:

  • Plan: Doing well in this class will make a difference in your grade point average for this year and for your upcoming college application. The material makes more sense to you when you talk it out with other students, so forming a study group seems to warrant the effort.
  • Do: Get your group together at a set time and in a quiet place that will allow members to focus on the coursework. Invite idea exchanges among all members. Concentrate initially on overall understanding and then on what you'll all expect to see on the first test.
  • Study: After exam grades are available, get together to check in on everyone's test performance.
  • Act: If results of your study approach suggest you'd be better off meeting in pairs or smaller groups, make the adjustment before the next exam or project. If your original plan appears to be working well, stay headed down the same path. Your comprehension of the course content is on an upward roll!