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Denise Robitaille


Only One Correct Action Process

A typical case in which fewer is better

Published: Monday, September 12, 2005 - 22:00

A recurrent theme that dominates discussion on the establishment of corrective action programs is the practice of channeling problems through multiple conduits for assessment and resolution. Organizations inadvertently fragment their corrective action process by trying to address problems and nonconformances using activities scattered throughout diverse processes. Generally the criteria for selecting which kind of corrective action will be done is dependent on the point of origin – the function or department where the problems are first identified. It’s not uncommon to see organizations have two or three different corrective action processes. Internal audit findings get handled by the quality manager or the function that oversees audits. Issues dealing with incoming products and material are directed to the purchasing department. Returned defective material is handled through the process for dispositioning nonconforming product. In-process errors get fixed, maybe get recorded and often result in the ubiquitous “train the operator” type activities. Customer complaints get handled by whoever answers the phone with whatever means they have at their disposal. Any additional investigation into root cause and possible corrective action remain within the department. The unfortunate consequence of these practices is that information gleaned from one problem-solving process is rarely communicated to individuals having responsibility for other corrective action initiatives.

A typical example might be found in an organization that chooses to handle in-process defects by fixing the product and gathering data that they could later analyze to identify evidence of previous occurrence. Their intent is to have the information available should the need arise to address performance problems and possibly initiate a corrective action based on any trends that might emerge. As a bonus, this helps fulfill part of the data analysis requirements of ISO 9001. They also have an internal audit process that may have identifiedprocess problems directly upstream of where in-process defects have been detected.

The same organization has an MRB (Material Review Board) that evaluates returns from customers. As part of the deliberation, the MRB may do extensive testing of the returned product. They might perhaps check production equipment or interview a machine operator. And then, they determine what action to take. They record what they’ve done and claim to have performed corrective action. Due to the fragmentation of their process, they have no knowledge of the internal audit findings that might help pinpoint the cause of the defect. And, they are unaware of the large quantity of data relating to in-process defects taking up valuable space

The fundamental problem with not having a single corrective action process is that a great deal of the data that would be indicative of the cause of the defect or nonconformance never gets examined. This fragmentation of the problem solving process deprives the organization of information that could contribute to a thorough root cause analysis and, by extension, an effective corrective action—one that fulfills the intent: to prevent recurrence. As a result, the organization will never have the chance to see, for example, that the reason the customer got bad parts is the same reason that in-process defects of a similar nature keep happening: there is a secondary process that is not consistently controlled because it isn’t on the production router – a finding that came out of an internal audit conducted two months ago.

This increases the likelihood that the problem will not only recur, but will result in another return from the same customer. The company ends up fixing defects instead of the cause of defects.

The other drawback is that you end up with an organizational culture that doesn’t “get” the concept of a well integrated quality management system. Employees aren’t given the opportunity to see that what happens in what area may have a profound effect on another part of the organization.

The initial evaluation process that helps an organization determine if it is appropriate to conduct corrective action should reside at the point where the defects are first identified. However, once the decision had been made to take further action, the corrective actions should all funnel into the same process. This allows for broader array of participants. It diminishes the likelihood that stakeholders will not be included. It also increases consideration of less visible processes, like document distribution, order entry, communication, management of deviation notices and engineering change requests or production scheduling.

Finally, it streamlines the process and decreases the quantity of corrective actions that are being conducted. And that is definitely a case where fewer is better.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.