How to write a PDSA

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 9 April 2020 at 17:01

by Suzie Creighton

How to write a PDSA cycle - 01

So, you’ve decided that you’d like to start work on a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle – that’s great! We can help you kick start the process by sharing some hints and tips on how to write a great cycle, which will give your project a greater chance of success.


What’s a PDSA cycle and how can it help my organisation?

Simply put, the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is a 'trial-and-learning' method that allows you to rapidly test and evaluate ideas for change.  If you are wanting to make quality improvement changes within your organisation it can be a really successful methodology to use; tried, tested and rapid to implement.


Starting to write your PDSA process - tips and hints for how to write a great PDSA cycle.

We’ve got a range of ideas you can use to help you write a successful PDSA cycle for you and your team.  There are many other resources you can use to create a continuous culture of improvement, but these will kick off the process.


Keep it simple!

This is a great one to keep in mind when kicking off your PDSA project. If your change ideas are relatively simple - and therefore easy to measure - you will have a greater chance of success. Maybe think about keeping your sample size down and try to pick changes that won’t be too difficult to test - the simpler the better. As you may be running a series of PDSA tests or several at the same time, this approach will help in your quest for cultural improvement.   


Good things come in small packages

Don’t be afraid of trying out what might seem like small changes, as the accumulation of many small ideas can achieve incremental marginal gains. If you keep your change ideas small and easy to measure, you will normally meet less resistance when testing them.  Ideas tested through PDSA cycles often take a bottom-up approach; they can be tweaks to routines and processes.  

If the change is small, and the sample size as well, you will be more likely to succeed in implementing quality change and continuous improvement.  


You’re going to need a really good team

You will need to be prepared to face questions and, reluctance to change, no matter how small your changes are. So, it’s really important that you think carefully about the team you pick to help you move through the cycle. Can you draw on colleagues you’ve worked with in the past, who have had positive attitudes and want to help bring about a culture of change? If you have a team-led PDSA cycle, you’re more likely to create a collaborative team environment.


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make a success of your quality project! Before you start to write your own PDSA cycle, look for great ideas elsewhere. If you have a look online, you may be able to find other projects in healthcare settings that you could look to replicate. Another organisation might have created a protocol that you could borrow from and modify.


You might also want to look at the PDSAs on Life QI, which enables you to review summarised reports of past projects. You could also draw on experts across the Life QI community to hold both public and private QI discussions.


The PDSA itself

This is made up of Plan, Do, Study, Act and can be as large or small as you want


Plan – Agree on the change that will be tested and plan your actions for the cycle. Identify what your objectives are and what you want to achieve. Agree measurements you will use to measure your changes.


Do – Carry out the change or test. Observe where any problems lie and start collecting data for analysis.


Study – Study the data you have collected, review, discuss and reflect with your team about the impact of the change and the test and about what you have learned. Agree on next steps.


Act – planning your next change cycle based on the reflection of the test within the Study phase or planning full implementation based on your results.


How to approach your PDSA process

So, small is good and proven to enable effective change. This approach will also help you kick off your project - as bite size chunks of change can be less intimidating. You can access a huge range of PDSA cycles on Life QI which will make things easier for you – and help support your methodical learning process. Take a look at these articles for further change ideas:


10 easy ways to create great change ideas


Planning a PDSA cycle


We hope these tips will help you plan your PDSA cycle – let us know how you get on!


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