What is a PDSA cycle?

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 8 April 2020 at 09:50

by Suzie Creighton

What is a PDSA cycle - 01

 A Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is a four-step model for improvement, which can be used to provide a framework for quality improvement changes.


PDSAs are based on scientific method and provide a rapid way to test out small changes then build on them.  PDSAs gives stakeholders the opportunity to see if proposed changes will succeed and can be a powerful tool for learning from ideas and establishing what does and what doesn’t work.


Who uses PDSAs?

PDSA cycles are used to designed to effectuate positive change and can be used by a wide range of organizations. Many healthcare organizations use PDSAs for quality improvement, as they are a quick way of allowing your team to test out small changes. On Life QI you can keep a record of changes and collaborate with team members quickly and easily.  


Should I use a PDSA cycle in my organization?

PDSAs can help to build an organization-wide approach to improvement via changes in culture, as the methodology is used for problem-solving and to create quality process improvements. So, if you want to make quality changes within your organization, you should definitely consider using a PDSA to help you!  


By using a step by step approach and a cyclical process to measure and repeat, PDSA cycles are ideal for many improvement projects, as it enables you to demonstrate that by making small changes, you can make big improvements.


How do you start preparing for a PDSA cycle?

The PDSA is a ‘trial-and-learning’ method that allows you to thoroughly and efficiently test and evaluate your change ideas. They use quality tools to identify problems, review causes and create solutions with the aim of continuous improvement.


The first thing you need to do, however, is to identify what you want to achieve.

Let’s break down the PDSA to find out more:




Plan – This is the stage when you agree on the change that will be tested and plan your actions for the cycle. You would also agree on and form a team that will be managing the process and who will be responsible for the PDSA cycle. At this stage, you need to identify exactly what your objectives are and what you want to achieve. It’s also a good idea to work out what measurements you will use to measure your changes.


Do – This stage is when you will carry out the change or test. It may be a very small test and you may have several tests going on at the same time, but this is when the action takes place. This is also the stage when you will be observing where any problems lie and start collecting data for analysis. In Life QI you can easily record all stages of the cycle within the system and collect data that will be reviewed within the ‘Study’ phase.


Study – You will now need to study the data you have collected, which will be based on the outcomes that were agreed during the Plan phase. Once you have collected the data, you can review, discuss and reflect with your team about the impact of the change and the test and about what you have learned. Now is the time to agree what needs to be tweaked or whether test needs to be abandoned - or indeed whether the results mean a positive outcome can be followed through going forward.


Act – At this stage, you will be acting on the data that you have collected, so you may be planning the next change cycle based on the reflection of the test within the Study phase. You may also be planning full implementation based on your results. The results of one cycle are often used to inform an enhanced idea, that can then be tested in a new cycle.


Then – it’s back to the planning stage again to repeat the process!


I think PDSA cycles might be for me - what should I do?

PDSA cycles are designed to be short term but frequent and the aim of the process is to repeat until you implement a successful, sustainable improvement, so they can work really well in many healthcare settings.


If you decide a PDSA is what you need to do within your organization, it’s worth remembering that while building an organization-wide approach to an improvement culture takes time, using PDSAs from Life QI encourages people to maintain the rigour of the method and gives people access to purpose-built QI tools.


Have you done your first PDSA cycle or are you about to start? We’d love to hear about your experience, email us here. 


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