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Denise Robitaille


The Standards Answer

CARs: When faster isn’t better

Published: Monday, May 10, 2004 - 22:00

When is faster not better? In our warp-speed, 21st-century lives, getting the task completed on time--or ahead of time or before the competition--has become a goal in itself. We want this project done so we can move on to the next big thing. We tick things off our to-do list and gauge each day’s success by how much work we get through and how fast we do it. We expect the same performance from those around us; service is invariably measured by the speed of delivery. We allow this attitude to pervade every aspect of our work. Too often, a quick turnaround morphs from a criterion of varying criticality to an absolute and unchallenged requisite.

Thus it comes as no surprise that at training sessions I’m often asked, "What’s the recommended time for closing out a corrective action? Isn’t two weeks the industry average?" Some people consider the speed with which CARs are closed out a valid metric for determining the effectiveness of their corrective action program. Others use the metric not only to measure their own performance but also that of their suppliers. Because they apply the same expectations to the requests for corrective actions they send out, they can end up unjustly degrading a supplier’s ranking precisely because that company took the time to do a thorough root-cause analysis, develop and implement an appropriate plan to prevent recurrence and allocate an adequate probationary period to ensure the results provide reliable evidence for verification.

The time it takes to bring a corrective action to closure is dependent on each action’s unique nature. Some things simply take longer. We have to deal with constraints such as time, availability of people or resources, delivery of new components, waiting for customer authorization, results of tests or completion of training.

You might have a corrective action dealing with recurring in-process defects. You implement the action you believe will solve the problem. However, before you can close it out, you must also ensure that the plan was effective in addressing the initial nonconformance. You can’t do that until you’ve been able to amass and analyze adequate data: One trouble-free day doesn’t guarantee that the problem has been solved.

"But, the customer wants an answer in 24 hours," people say. What the customer wants and should expect is a response. Your clients deserve your prompt attention. What they’re usually looking for is your remedial action. This is also called correction, containment or remediation. It can involve repairing or replacing a product. It can also mean altering a process or practice. Either way, they’ll want to know what you’re doing right away to fix it. What action are you taking to contain the situation? Lost revenues, injury, scrapped assemblies, wasted time and/or a tarnished reputation are only a few of the negative consequences your customers might experience because of a nonconforming product you sent. They need your assurance that you’ll address the matter promptly.

Your response to them should say two things:

1. "This is what we’re doing immediately to repair the damage"

2. "We’re working on a corrective action to uncover the root cause of this problem so that we can develop a plan to ensure it never happens again." With No. 1 you plug the dike; with No. 2 you figure out how to redirect the current.

You can explain the process to your customers, enlist their assistance, keep them apprised of the status of the corrective action project and give them an estimated timeline of when you expect everything to be done. Make sure they’re in the communication loop and explain the metrics or tests that you will use to verify that the action has proved effective.

Apply the same rules to the corrective action requests you send to your own suppliers. Allow them adequate time to do the job right and don’t demand firefighting heroics when they’re neither warranted nor beneficial. Remedial action should be taken with all the speed that the incident mandates. Corrective action should be performed in the amount of time it takes to get the required results-i.e., an effective implementation with verifiable evidence that it worked.


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.