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Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycles are an ideal quality improvement tool that can be used to test an idea by temporarily trialling a change and assessing its impact.

What is it?
  • PDSA is a very structured four-step cycle which requires effort and discipline
  • It incorporates careful and detailed consideration of the following:
    • Plan: A plan of what is to be tested, including questions to be answered, predictions, and a plan for the collection of data to answer the questions and predictions
    • Do: Carry out the test of change according to the plan, recording observations including unexpected outcomes/observations
    • Study: A comparison of the data against the predictions made in the plan and study the results
    • Act: Make a decision about the next course of action
  • Whilst the PDSA cycle originates from industry, it has been incorporated into the Model for Improvement
  • It can be used to test ideas in the real or simulated context
  • More detailed information can be found in the PDSA Guidance template found below.
What does this tool look like?
Image of the PDSA tool
Why use this tool?
  • To learn what happens when we try to do something differently
  • There are 3 common reasons to use the PDSA cycle in an improvement effort:
    • To build knowledge to help answer any of the three questions in the Model for Improvement
    • To test a change
    • To implement a change
  • Use the PDSA Cycle to build knowledge.  Knowledge is gained through careful predictions about what will happen during testing and then comparing what actually happened.  See completed PDSA guidance template for further information
  • Most purposeful improvements will require multiple cycles to further build knowledge
Where does this tool fit in the improvement journey?


This tool is relevant at these stages of the Quality Improvement Journey.


It is also relevant to the three themes that support your journey.

How to use it.
  • It provides a structure for iterative testing of changes to improve quality of systems
  • It is used to turn ideas into action and learn from those actions.  When testing new ideas, it helps to build knowledge about the impact of a change in the system. (The Improvement Guide, 2nd Edition, 2009)
  • It is commonly used with a recording template:
    • to document the views/thoughts of the team prior to carrying out a test of change
    • to ensure that you have an accurate record of the complete process of Plan, Do, Study, Act
    • To share the learning derived from undertaking a test of change
  • Most improvement projects will involve several tests of a variety of change ideas
  • Each change idea may require several iterative PDSA cycles
  • Each change you test should be recorded and filed for future reference/sharing
Resources to download.