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So, you think you’ve got them all figured it out, and then, bam! Somebody else comes up with a new quality acronym to throw you off your game. But don’t give up too soon. Acronyms are confusing, but they all boil down to continual improvement. The trick is to decide, along with your company, which acronyms you really want to use.
If you have been in quality for as long as I have, and have seen as many industries, you’ve no doubt seen the following acronyms, but you might not know what they stand for. What follows is a brief summary of each as well as an explanation of the one, single acronym that can do away with all of your quality confusion.
CAR stands for “corrective action request,” and it means the act of originating a corrective action. In the ISO arena, CAR is by far one of the most frequently used terms for corrective action. The essence of CAR is to investigate a problem that already happened and requires root cause analysis and resolution to prevent recurrence. Although the acronym stands for corrective action request, companies often use it to denote their entire corrective action life cycle rather than just the request portion.
In my view, CAR isn’t an appropriate handle for a corrective action because it implies only the initial stage of the corrective action process. What happens after the action has been requested and the issue moves on to the root cause? Should the acronym be CARC, for corrective action root cause? What if the corrective action is in the “review of effectiveness” stage? Should say CARE?
A PAR, or preventive action request, is similar to a CAR. PAR is one of the most widely used terms for preventive actions by companies that are ISO 9001-certified. Companies use PARs to conduct an investigation to find the root cause(s) of a potential problem so that it does not come to pass. As with CAR, PAR refers to all steps of preventive action, not just the request portion as the name implies. Again, when the preventive action moves to root cause analysis, we don’t switch the name to PARC but continue to call it PAR until closure. Therefore, in my view, PAR is not good nomenclature for preventive actions.
NCR, or nonconformance report, is one of the most widely misunderstood acronyms. Most people tend to confuse NCR with a corrective action or, worse yet, with an audit nonconformity. However, a nonconformance is an instance when a product does not meet product specifications—whether the nonconformity is major or minor—and therefore does not conform to requirements. Nonconformance reports log and track the occurrence of nonconformances either on paper or electronically.
Companies track nonconformances using NCRs in order to keep a log of defects categories, defect types, frequency counts, and so forth. This ultimately will help in creating Pareto charts or other trend diagrams as part of the effort to eliminate such product nonconformities. Although a severe product nonconformance could generate a corrective action, NCRs are primarily a tracking mechanism to account for products that did not meet requirements, and to indicate what was done with them (e.g., were they scrapped, reworked, returned to vendor, used as is?). This helps companies make informed productivity and efficiency decisions.
Much of the confusion with NCRs stems from their seeming relation to both CARs and preventive action reports (PARs). The key thing to remember is that not all product nonconformities may require root cause analysis, while CARs and PARs always require this step.
In the case of a preventive action, there is no nonconformance present. A preventive action points to a possibility that something could go wrong in the future. Keeping such distinctions in mind will help you to use the term NCR, as well as CAR and PAR, correctly.
A supplier quality action report (SCAR) was derived from the need to issue suppliers a corrective action to a problem that occurred due to their product or service. As a way to differentiate this from an internal corrective action, somebody out there decided to call it a SCAR. Basically, it’s a formal request to a supplier to correct a problem and explain exactly how it will do so. SCAR is mostly used in organizations where there is a strong customer-supplier relationship, and where both customers and suppliers are high in the quality food chain (e.g., electronics, semiconductors, or telecom).
This term is mostly used by software companies that want to say they have a system that can cover corrective and preventive actions. The downside of the acronym CAPA is that it might create confusion, due to its similarity to CAR and PAR. If employees want to log a CAR or a PAR, should they call it CAR, PAR or CAPA? This quandary can actually intimidate people and prevent them from even attempting to log in an opportunity for improvement.
A corrective preventive action request (CPAR) is a combination of corrective and preventive actions with the additional request at the end. I would personally caution against using this acronym. It can create confusion not only by mixing corrective and preventive action in the same acronym but also by adding the dreaded request at the end. I’d avoid using this one if at all possible.
NCN stands for “nonconformity note.” It originated with certification bodies or registrars who issue nonconformity notes as part of their audit reports. NCNs are often confused with NCRs; however, an NCR is used to track product nonconformities, while an NCN is used to track audit nonconformities. If you choose to use the term, be careful to be consistent and avoid mixing it up with NCRs.
Given that many of these acronyms are wrongly used, what is a conscientious ISO 9001 follower to do? There is one term I wholeheartedly endorse because it captures the essence of the ISO standard continual improvement principle and corrective and preventive action requirements. Continual improvement program (CIP) is short, simple, and unambiguous. Forget about trying to find an acronym that can represent the source of the problem or the stages of resolution. CIP encompasses the system to handle all opportunities for improvement.
By using the term CIP, you can eliminate resistance to the whole process. Tell your employees, “If you have a systemic issue, be it large or small, log it in the CIP. If you have an audit nonconformity, log it in the CIP. If you have a customer complaint, log it in the CIP. If you want to improve something, log it in the CIP.” Of course, your CIP application (such as a cloud-based quality management system) will show whether the CIP was generated from a customer, supplier, an audit, or internally. Regardless of the nature or source of the issue, CIPs allow you to use a simple acronym that everyone feels comfortable using and talking about. During my career as a continual improvement advocate, I have never seen employees embracing a term more eagerly than the CIP concept.