What is the four-step quality management cycle?

This cycle or as others naming it a method, which is not a mistake, is one of the most vital quality improvement tools.

If you are wondering should you use it or not, keep in mind the ISO 9001 Standard highly encourages its use, so as we. Because if you apply it, it’s expected from you to apply it across the range of processes involved in any quality system. And application takes a range from planning for quality and review of performance, through to taking effective action to respond to, and resolve, weaknesses in the system (CAPA).

Prevent a fail with PDSA

You cannot fail in the improvement of your QMS if you use this Plan Do Study Act cycle. So how does it work: First, you organize a strategy that you want to use, then you try to carry out your plan. Then you investigate the results and observe what happened. An act is the last stage.
What you do here depends upon the results of your planning and doing; and what you observed when you evaluated them. If you got the results you wanted, you incorporate the change into your system. If results are not as you expected, you decide what else to do; for example, try something else, or start again from a scratch but take a different perspective. The more you use this method for improvement, the better you get at doing it.

How it goes — step by step

1. Plan — Planning is one of the most important parts of the QMS. You have to begin with understanding the framework of your organization and all the QMS related parties used to define the scope of the QMS and its processes. At this stage, you need the commitment of leadership in the company. They will help in leading the organization to a customer focus and overall QMS focus. The next stage of planning is that you have to identify and tackle risks and opportunities of the QMS, with support of continual improvement. The last stage of planning is to identify and implement the support structure to allow you to carry out your plans. This includes resources, identifying competence, awareness, communication, and to set the processes for creation and control of documented information.

2. Do — It’s time to carry out the plan. All the activities of creating and providing products or services to the customers you need to execute according to your plan need to be done in this stage. Don’t forget the controls that need to be identified for the QMS operations. Any non-conforming products or services need to be addressed.

3. Study — It used to be “check”, but now it is recommended to “study” what you have done so far. Standard has several requirements to check the processes of the QMS to ensure they are functioning properly, as you have planned them. You need to do some monitoring, measuring, analyzing, and evaluation of the products or services so you can see if they met your expected requirements. You are expected to check and evaluate — study if the processes used are adequate and effective, and customer satisfaction is being met.

4. Act — This stage expects you to act, which involves the actions needed to address any issues found in the “Study” stage. Here you have to see what you got with this implementation, whether it worked. In case it did not work, you have to ask yourself what you can do differently in your next cycle to address that. If it did work, are you ready to spread it across your entire practice? Keep in mind that this action should eliminate the causes of actual or potential nonconformities as the first step in acting to improve the system.

You may be interested in:
Beginners guide through ISO 9001 —

Beginners guide through ISO 9001 —


An example would be if your company planned to reduce the number of complaints by 10% by making particular changes to a customer service process, the changes were made and the process ran, checking of the process showed that you reduced the amount of scrap by 6%, and you acted to make further changes to improve. The next planning for this process might be to make further changes and reduce the complaints by a further 20% in the following year.

Use PDSA to focus your QMS toward improvement

By using the PDSA method, it will encourage you to focus on the processes and objectives of the QMS toward the desired improvement. It will also lead you to savings in time and money that can improve further.

These four steps can be repeated over and over as part of a never-ending cycle of continual learning and improvement.

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