Framework 5: Improvement Cycles

Implementation teams use improvement cycles to change on purpose. Improvement cycles are based on a Plan, Do, Study, Act process. 

While there are many models for continuous improvement, Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycles provide Implementation Teams with a framework for problem-solving barriers. Many times, implementers, support staff, and teams experience similar, consistent barriers to implementing an evidence-based program or practice as intended. These barriers include lack of training, inadequate communication, low buy-in, and ineffective coaching, among others. Implementation Teams employ PDSA cycles to intentionally identify, problem-solve, and address these barriers and improve implementation.  

The PDSA cycles consist of four phases:   

  • Plan - identify barriers or challenges, using multiple data points, and specify the plan to move programs or innovations forward and identify the outcomes that will be monitored, 
  • Do - carry out the strategies or plan as specified to address the challenges, 
  • Study - use the measures identified during the planning phase to assess and track progress, and 
  • Act - make changes to the next iteration of the plan to improve implementation. 

In addition, to ensure equitable implementation with fidelity, PDSA Cycles should center the voices, perspectives, and experiences of those engaged in the improvement process (e.g., implementers, students, families, support staff). It is important to consider how race, gender, ability, and language are operating. When conducting a PDSA cycle, Implementation Teams should also discuss the following questions during each phase of the cycle: 

  • Plan - Who was included in developing the plan and who was not?  Have students, caregivers, communities, and implementers had the power and voice to create and prioritize change ideas
  • Do - Who is included in the testing?  Do those who are doing the test represent the diversity of those expected to implement or receive the practice?  
  • Study - How are we defining evidence?  Are we considering multiple and diverse forms of data?  For whom did the change work for and in what context? 
  • Act - What in our school or district might be preventing this change from happening or sustaining?  Are their power dynamics or systems of oppression that might be preventing success? 

Implementation in Context: Improvement Cycles 

Gabby likes to cook.

Gabby enjoys experimenting and trying out new recipes. For her brother’s birthday, Gabby decided to cook his favorite meal, lasagna. She wanted to make sure the recipe was just right, so the weekend before his birthday, she made a practice lasagna (and wasn’t bummed about eating it). Plan. Gabby reviewed recipes for lasagna and picked a recipe to use. Do. Gabby followed the recipe and baked a lasagna. Study. Gabby ate the lasagna and made note of a few changes she wanted to make to the recipe and preparation. Act. Gabby made the lasagna with the new tweaks for her brother’s birthday. He told her It was the best lasagna he’d ever had.  

Improvement Cycle Planning Tool

PDSA Planning Template

Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycles are used for rapid cycle problem-solving in active implementation. Use of this PDSA Planning Template will help ensure there is clear communication, the plan is enacted, you begin to collect data to study, and you act on what was learned from that data.

Download PDF