How Can FOCUS PDCA Help Improve Business Operations

Improving what we do and how we do it is an important part of business strategy. As organizations develop and grow, there is any number of improvement opportunities along the way. Opportunities can be related to business processes like the accounting function, a manufacturing process or a service process aimed to improve the customer experience. No matter what the process is, there can be a systematic approach to making improvements.

A quality method for improving work processes is a model called FOCUS PDCA. This methodology takes a process through identification of the improvement opportunity, planning for an improvement, implementation and evaluation of the change.

The first step in any improvement is understanding the current process by establishing a baseline. A baseline is measurable data that is collected at the beginning of an improvement project. For example, if you want to improve the wait time for customers, it is important to measure what the current wait time is. Once you know what the current wait time is, you can develop a process to improve those times. Measurement of any improvement effort is done at the beginning, during and after any improvement effort.

So how does FOCUS PDCA Work?

  • Find: An opportunity for improvement.
  • Organize: A team that is familiar with the process.
  • Clarify: Understanding of the process.
  • Understand: Variation in the process.
  • Select: What needs to be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Execute the plan.
  • Check: Review the results and determine if the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, standardize the change and write policy. If the plan did not work, go back and try something else.

Let’s look at an example of how this might work. Say you are a small business that does product order fulfillment. There are increasing numbers of customer complaints about the order-to-ship time. The business has been growing but you have a fear that the complaints will have an impact on future orders. Let’s go through the FOCUS PDCA Cycle:

  • Find: The opportunity to improve is the product order-to-ship time.
  • Organize: Recruit a team of employees who work in the order fulfillment role.
  • Clarify: Map out the order fulfillment process in a flowchart. Start with when the order is placed and map the process through shipment.
  • Understand: Collect data so you understand any variations in the process.
  • Select: Identify what in the process can be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Implement the plan.
  • Check: Collect data to see how the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, write a policy and train employees on the new process. If the plan did not work, go back to the beginning and try another improvement idea.

This is a very simplified example of using FOCUS PDCA, but what you will find is that if you try this method on a few small improvement opportunities, you will become more comfortable and will be able to use the same methodology on larger system problems.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of