How to Choose the Right Improvement Model

You have a design you want to make better. Or you're working within a designing framework that you think needs to be updated. Quality folks use and promote some standard problem solving and continuous improvement methods, and you’ll want to to get started with the right one, or reference the right acronym when getting buy-in for your project.

You may have heard of PDCA, PDSA, and DMAIC. You vaguely know they’re improvement, but don’t really know what their differences are. When should you use which one, and for what?

This installment demystifies the titles and explores their development history so you can get started with the right model. Know who in Quality can help you get started within your organization. 

I had to do a little digging for this one! Interesting and useful documents that I used are cited at the end of this post.

A takeaway: theses improvement models are THEMSELVES being continuously improved! And, why not? 

“If I have seen further than others, it is by  standing upon the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Issac Newton 

To take this a little further, challenge yourself to find and figure out what model (or models) are being used right now in your organization for improvement. 

Tell me in the comments: What are times you’ve followed-through or have been a part of PDCA, PDSA, or DMAIC? What was the purpose of the project, and did the process help your team? 

If you ever find yourself lost in the midst of one of these improvement cycles or models, take a few steps back from the details (or the weeds, as I call them) to remind yourself that it’s roots are based in the Scientific Method.  And, don't do it alone - your Quality Professional friends are there to help!


Berardinelli, Carl F. "To DMAIC or Not to DMAIC?" Quality Progress, vol. 49, no. 1, 2016, pp. 36.

Deming. “PDSA Cycle.” The W. Edwards Deming Institute,

Moen, Ronald D. and Clifford L. Norman. "Circling Back, Clearing up myths about the Deming cycle and seeing how it keeps evolving." Quality Progress, November 2010, pp. 22-28.

Leave a Comment