Plan. Do. Check. Act (PDCA). Made popular by Deming in 1950, it’s another one of those models that you look at and think: ‘Yes, that’s obvious.’ The reason it feels obvious is because these four steps are core to so many business processes. If you’re interested in making your organisation effective (achieving results) while being efficient (doing it with the least money, people and effort needed), then you’ll be interested in PDCA.

In this short post, we’re going review:

  1. What PDCA actually means
  2. How it applies to marketing
  3. Where else PDCA is used

PDCA Deming Cycle

What PDCA actually means

Plan. Once you have completed an audit, you set a plan. There are many models and best practices for what makes a good plan but, broadly speaking, every plan should have: clear aims; the activities needed to be done to achieve those aims; who’ll do them; and the measurements that will let you know your activities have been done and your aims achieved.

Do. Make sure the activities outlined in the Plan are done. But not just in any old way – they have to be done by the right people, at the right time, to the right budget, in the right way. If you don’t know ‘how’ to do the activities, then revisit your Plan. Make sure this detail is in there. Otherwise, you’re leaving the ‘what needs to be done’ down to each person’s own interpretation – and, trust me, we all have different ideas about how things should be done.

Check. Some activity has taken place. Great! Have the results been achieved? Have you done the right activities? Have they been done at the right time, in the right way? I always use the example of how for one year I religiously walked 11,000 steps every day. And lost not a pound of weight or got fitter. Why? Because I walked those steps with my children, at a snail pace. Right activity, wrong intensity. Check your activities as well as your results. You should come away with best practice as well as ‘never do that again’ learning. 

Act. Then, adjust and act on what you have learnt. It’s no good checking what you’ve done, how effective it has been (i.e. did it achieve those aims?) and how efficiently you’ve done it (not wasting a single second or penny) if you don’t act upon it. Act means applying the learning discovered at the Check phase. First, adjust and act there and then. Then feed this learning into the next plan, as the final act before you begin the PDCA loop again


How PDCA applies to marketing

Marketers use PDCA as the foundation for CRO – Conversion Rate Optimisation. CRO is how efficiently and effectively organisations pull the right customers all the way through the marketing funnel, from awareness to adoption (see AIDA for the foundation model of marketing funnels).

PDCA provides the basis for the marketing continuous improvement loop, learning and improving your marketing, always doing better. This approach has the potential to significantly improve ROI through continuous improvements.

Where else PDCA is used

Look around your organisation. All Continuous Improvement processes and approaches have PDCA at their heart. It’s implicitly or explicitly part of many other quality systems. The detail and how to do each stage will vary, the language used changes, but ultimately if you want ANY part of your organisation to be effective and efficient you have to Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Wrap Up

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This post was written by Kara Stanford is a Strategic Marketing Consultant at KMS Marketing and a tutor with Oxford College of Marketing.


References: Deming, W.E. 1950. Elementary Principles of the Statistical Control of Quality, JUSE
Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash