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Plan-Do-Check-Act: The Importance of a Continuous Improvement Cycle

Plan-Do-Check-Act: The Importance of a Continuous Improvement Cycle

Many maintenance programs grow organically over the years and end up focusing mainly on breakdown and unplanned maintenance. During my years of managing maintenance and integrity operations, I have seen many technicians work in firefighting mode, typically resulting in preventative planned maintenance taking a hit. To implement an effective and efficient work management system within your organization, you must implement and follow a continuous improvement cycle.

One of the key continuous improvement systems is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (or PDCA) approach. This method, also often referred to as the Demming or Shewhart cycle, encourages continuous improvement through consistent review and implementation of process-based updates.

Once you progress your organization to a high level of maturity in the PDCA cycle, you will find yourself becoming highly efficient in terms of work management processes and delivery of maintenance activities. With a plan of activities in place, you can execute work methodically, check to ensure that all work is being carried out effectively and that the plan is being upheld and act on the checks by implementing corrective routines and adjusting plans.


You may have encountered a similar system to PDCA in the form of IPSECA. This is also a continuous improvement cycle:

Identification: Used to define what and where work needs to be done.

Planning and Prioritization: Determining the cost, task, labor and material requirements for executing the work and communicating the urgency of identified work.

Scheduling: The prioritized work scopes over a given time and the sequence of activities, preparing the work space and resources for the work.

Execution: The physical execution of the work in accordance with safe work order instructions and in alignment with the agreed schedule.

Completion: The feedback of information for updating both recurring planned work and corrective orders to ensure that accurate historical data is captured. Returning the worksite to a safe condition and handing back the site to operations.

Analysis: The analysis of the work performed to drive continuous improvement over time.

Here, you can see how IPSECA falls into the PDCA cycle:

Plan - Identify, plan and prioritize;

Do - Schedule, prepare and execute;

Check - Complete and analyze;

Act - Correct any defects and systematically remove waste from the process.

How the PDCA cycle aids effective work management

Effective maintenance identification, planning and scheduling is vital for every asset: Not only does it enable efficient work execution, it also has a direct impact on production and safety targets as well as operational expenditure.

An almost daily challenge faced by maintenance or asset managers, however, is planned maintenance vs. unplanned corrective maintenance. When unplanned work disrupts the frozen plan and weekly schedules and is prioritized over scheduled tasks, you start accumulating a backlog. The biggest challenge is deciding whether this unplanned work should take priority over other work that has already been planned and scheduled.

In this instance, prioritization is essential. When you identify any work, ask yourself: What is the reliability of components based on the risk profile of a piece of equipment? You can identify a risk profile by determining the consequences of the piece of equipment failing and what the probability of that failure is. From there, you can prioritize your workload and manage corrective maintenance more efficiently.

Your review should justify its prioritization above planned maintenance — this unplanned, corrective work should have a high enough priority to allow it to be broken into schedules. However, by applying a structured, risk-based approach, you may often find (when it isn’t obvious) that the unplanned work isn’t of a higher priority and that your scheduled work is actually of greater importance. In that case, the unplanned work should be challenged and pushed out to the optimum point where practical.

During planned work, you need to maintain the discipline of allocating time and resources in parallel with your asset norms, and then, through proactive management, altering the ratio to favor PM work. By aiming or adhering to this regime, maintenance will get back on track and create headroom towards more proactive rather than reactive interventions.

When executing work, ensure that the site, plant and people are all prepared to complete the work in the plan.

When executing work, ensure that the site, plant and people are all prepared to complete the work in the plan. Ensuring that tools, resources and consumables are ready to go at the point of use allows for the plan to be efficiently and successfully followed.

Regularly checking your maintenance plans against the work being executed and having visibility of data around your plan attainment
can be extremely useful, as it allows you to:

Drill down and understand why you are unable to achieve your plan;

Unearth problems you did not previously see;

Open up discussions with your team so that you can work together to fix any issues.

Define a metric that suits your business for measuring compliance against your “plan attainment.”

Define a metric that suits your business for measuring compliance against your “plan attainment.” Regular reviews of this KPI and contributing factors will encourage investigation and allow for critical conversations to take place. By understanding the reasons for non-compliance, realistic and tangible actions can be put in place to help the maintenance team comply with and adapt to the maintenance plan. The implementation of corrective actions into the work execution plan will then lead you into the Act stage of the PDCA cycle.

Finally, the Act stage is key to the improvement cycle, as the planned, executed and checked work can allow informed changes to be made. When checking and closing work, the priority, above all else, should be that the site is left in a safe and clean condition and the equipment is operating to the highest standard possible. Procedure and process should be checked by making sure that the data is entered into the system, so that when you move on to the Act step of the cycle where you analyze the work completed, you have all the information to hand.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle can be implemented at any stage in your work execution plans and will help ensure continuous improvement, accelerating your maintenance team towards best-in-class, followed by world-class, maintenance execution.

Mike Meen

Mike Meen is a skilled and knowledgeable professional with a proven track record of establishing the root causes of an organization’s issues and delivering solutions. He has implemented value-adding programs across cultures and in a variety of industries on behalf of his customers. Most recently, Mike became chair of the competence workgroup Step Change for Safety, delivering industry-wide guidance on competence management systems, and co-created innovative Safety and Environmental Critical Element (SECE) verification systems (2022 Offshore Safety Award Finalist).

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