Return on your Corrective Action Investment

By D. K. Moskal

ISO consulting, ISO auditing, ISO trainingCorrective actions are one of the most valuable yet underutilized processes of a quality management system. Many times the only corrective actions that a company has documented in their system are those that have been created for audit findings or demanded by customers. They are often looked at as a necessary evil of achieving certification or appeasing the customer. However, corrective actions, when performed effectively, can add an enormous amount of value not only to the quality management system but to the company as a whole.

Like any piece of equipment, software, or personnel that is added to the organization there is an expected return on the investment. Why should the corrective action system be any different? You will invest valuable resources into the process so you should also receive the benefits of the elimination of the causes of problems you’re experiencing and not continuing to fight the same battles. This is where performing a corrective action with a thorough root-cause analysis becomes critical. If the root cause of the systemic problem is not identified then the chances of it recurring are very high. The fire will come back and you will once again use valuable resources to resolve it.

So what are the benefits of performing corrective actions? First, let’s look at the definition. Corrective action is an action to eliminate the cause of a detected nonconformity or other undesirable situation. The biggest implication in this definition is to eliminate the cause. Can you imagine what would happen if there was an elimination of causes of the problems that exist in an organization? What would daily life look like? Would there be less fire-fighting activity, less chaos, and more productivity? Could you concentrate on the improvements that you’ve been wanting and needing to make to grow the organization? Would profitability increase? Certainly, at the least, an organization would operate differently, and I dare to say, more effectively.

When an organization is documenting Corrective Actions only because it’s demanded of them, just the motions are executed and the true benefits of the process are not realized. The root cause of the problem is not thoroughly analyzed and therefore the implemented action does not solve the problem. Just enough information is recorded on the form to appease the auditor or customer. But does this really solve the problem that was identified and benefit the organization? It might in the short term, but probably not for the long haul.

To gain the most benefit, the root cause of the problem needs to be identified. Is it always necessary to pinpoint the root cause of the problem? The answer is yes and no. While in the perfect world it’s ideal to identify the root cause of the problem, it doesn’t always make good business sense. There could be a point of diminishing returns. It’s easy to imagine that it could cost more to discover the problem and/or implement the necessary action to eliminate it than the product or service is even worth. It’s the old saying of ‘spending a dollar to save a nickel’, it just doesn’t make good business sense. However, don’t use this excuse to simply gloss over it and do the bare minimum or nothing at all. Unless you do your due diligence and go down the path of investigating the root cause and analyzing the data how would you ever know?

Once the root cause of the problem has been identified, it’s time to figure out what is the best action to take. Many things will need to be considered, including the cost involved, resources required, and the time that it takes to implement. Also, be careful to not fall into the trap of fixing the immediate problem and then moving on. Many confuse fixing or correcting the immediate problem with getting the product or service out to the customer as the actual root cause of the systemic issue and not fixing the root cause. While the customer will be pleased for the short term, they will certainly not be pleased when they see the problem recur again.

When determining what action is to be taken, you’ll also want to determine how you’re going to verify that the action is effective. The importance of verifying the effectiveness of the action is obviously to make sure it works so the problem doesn’t occur again.

It’s common to see the effectiveness verification documented as ‘the form has been created’ or ‘the procedure was updated’. However, this doesn’t identify if the creation of the checklist or if the update of the procedure actually solved the problem. It only states that the task was completed, another box checked if you will. It doesn’t tell you if the action was effective at solving the original problem. With this approach, there’s no benefit to the organization. There’s no confidence that there will be any kind of return on all of the resources that were invested into solving the problem. Instead, before the action is implemented, determine what evidence you will need to have the confidence that the action was effective at meeting its intended goal. You need to be specific, determine how many work orders need to be reviewed, how many products need to be in conformance, or how much time needs to pass. Whatever it is that will tell you the action was effective and the problem will not recur. Document the specifics of what requirements will be needed. When the time for the verification comes document the specifics of what was reviewed, the actual work orders, or the products that were observed.

The benefits of performing effective corrective actions are much more than receiving certification on a wall or appeasing a customer. The benefits have a greater impact on solving problems so that they don’t recur, reducing the number of firefighting resources needed and the return on the investment of resources that are used for the process.

Cavendish Scott has been designing and implementing management systems for over 25 years. This includes robust corrective action systems, training, and consulting. If you need help with corrective action or any aspect of your management system please contact us.

7 Deadly Sins of ISO - Download the free eBook and avoid ISO horror stories