The concept of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is found in many places throughout quality assurance, so it is no surprise that it can be found when implementing an aerospace Quality Management System (QMS) using the requirements of AS9100 Rev D. The PDCA approach is often used when trying to improve an individual process, but when taking the overall QMS goal of continual improvement into account, it can be seen that the overall QMS is designed around the PDCA cycle.

What is the classic Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle?

The originator of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle was Walter Shewhart, and it was later made popular by Edward Deming. These two fathers of modern quality control advanced this process for implementing change that could lead to improvements in the process when applied repeatedly. An example in everyday life could be when you decide to lose weight, you Plan to eat fewer calories and exercise more; the Do phase is when you try to eat less and go to the gym; the Check phase is when you monitor the real weight loss; and the Act phase is when you decide what to change to further achieve your goals – e.g., further reduce snacking, increase the number of visits to the gym each week, or join a running club.

PDCA cycle in AS9100 Rev D - 9100Academy

As can be seen, this is not just a one-time fix for a problem; this system is designed to sustain improvement over the long term by making and sustaining smaller improvements.

PDCA in the AS9100 Rev D Standard

In the introduction to AS9100 Rev D, there is a discussion on how the standard employs the process approach and how this incorporates the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and risk-based thinking in the QMS. This allows the processes to be planned, adequately resourced, and managed, and improvement opportunities to be identified and acted upon. In fact, with the use of the format for management systems that has been employed in the updated standard, it is even easier to determine the use of the PDCA cycle because everything is now in order:

Plan – Planning the QMS is defined in clause 6 of the standard, and takes into account the organizational context and needs of interested parties that were identified in clause 4, and the leadership requirements defined in clause 5. With the QMS driven by top management, plans are identified to address risks and opportunities and to plan the achievement of quality objectives.

Do – The Do phase is accomplished by the requirements is clause 7 (support), which deal with the provision of resources of all types, and clause 8 (operation), which includes the requirements for determining requirements for, design and development of, and provision for the creation and delivery of products and services.

Check – Clause 9 deals with performance evaluation and covers the requirements to monitor, measure, analyze, and evaluate the necessary outputs of your processes. This include the internal audit of processes and the management review of the QMS to identify what is occurring according to plan, what needs to be corrected, and what opportunities for improvement will be acted upon.

Act – The final clause, clause 10 (improvement), includes the requirements for the tools used to react to the Check phase, including continual improvement, and the provisions for addressing QMS nonconformity and corrective actions. These activities will lead you into planning for change and will start the process over again.

This can most easily be seen in the use of the quality objectives in the QMS. You may choose to plan to reduce your scrap rates by 8% in a year by changing a certain process; you will then make the changes to the process that were identified to achieve the scrap reduction. After implementing the change, you will check the new scrap rate and find that it has been reduced by 7%; you could then either accept this rate or act to make further changes to the process and reduce the scrap rate even further.

Focus your QMS improvement with the PDCA cycle

With continual improvement as one of the overall quality management principles that form the basis of the AS9100 standard, the goal of the QMS is to work towards improvements in your company that will make your QMS better overall. Because this will lead to savings in time and money, it is one of the best ways to find the return on investment for the time and resources put into implementing your QMS. If properly using the PDCA cycle in your QMS will help find the cost and time savings you want, isn’t it worthwhile using this well-understood tool to make your processes better?

Do you want to find out more about the steps for implementing AS9100? Check out this free AS9100 Rev D Implementation Diagram.


Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.