Corrective Action and Preventive Action. What's The Difference?
Corrective Action and Preventive Action. What's The Difference?
Industry Insights
Corrective Action and Preventive Action. What's The Difference?
The root of every functional quality process has solid corrective and preventive action plans.
April 13, 2021

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An In-depth Look at Corrective and Preventive Action

Corrective Action

What's the Scope of Corrective Action?

Benefits of Corrective Action

Issues of Corrective Actions

Corrective Action Request (CAR)

Preventive Action

What's the Scope of Preventive Action?

How Does Corrective Action Differ From Preventive Action?

How Is Corrective Action Similar to Preventive Action?

Corrective Action and Preventive Action in Practice

Implementing Corrective and Preventive Action

Using the Corrective and Preventive Action Subsystem

A Note on Defect Repair

Conclusion

Quality Management is a broad and deliberate discipline. Of the many concepts it covers, you'll probably have heard quite a bit about corrective action and preventive action. What do these terms mean, and why do they matter? We can go ahead and answer the latter first: a fuller understanding of quality management processes is only possible when you understand these terms. This article discusses what corrective and preventive actions refer to.


An In-depth Look at Corrective and Preventive Action

Corrective action and preventive action operate in tandem. These concepts are collectively known as CAPA. Both practices are concepts within HACCP/HARPC (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points/Hazard Analysis) and Risk-Based Preventive Controls/and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). It also belongs to various ISO business standards.

The focus of CAPA is the systematic investigation of the root causes of identified risks or problems in a bid to ensure they don't occur (preventive) or recur (corrective).

Appropriate CAPA documentation is a requirement of the ISO 9000. It's a similar case with related standards such as the AS9100.

CAPA is a body of regulation- or law-required actions that a company undertakes in documentation, manufacturing, systems, or procedures to eliminate or resolve recurring nonconformance.

What is nonconformance? Non-conformance is evident after systematic analysis and evaluation of the root cause of the nonconformance. It may comprise a customer or market complaint, machinery, or Quality Management System failure. It may also include misinterpretations of written instructions to perform work.

A team designs the corrective and preventive action that comprises quality assurance personnel and personnel involved in the actual observation point of nonconformance. The CAPA requires systematic implementation and observation to eliminate other recurrences of similar nonconformance.

The 8D framework or Eight Disciplines problem-solving method is an effective means of structuring a CAPA.

CAPA is critical to effect improvements in a company's processes. It is necessary to eliminate causes of nonconformities or less-than-desirable situations.

Non-conformance is evident after systematic analysis and evaluation of the root cause of the nonconformance.

Corrective Action

Project managers view corrective action as a deliberate activity to realign the performance of project work with a project management plan.

Corrective action is a Quality Management procedure that involves a sequence of actions an individual or organization performs to rectify a behavior or process. Corrective action is necessary when there is the danger of a production error or a deviation from the original goal or plan.

In simpler terms, the above definition of corrective action is a future response to repairing a defect. It ensures that the error never occurs again.

Suppose we find some defective components and corrected them, for instance. Our goal will be to ensure it doesn't happen again, so we go after the root cause of the problem and develop a solution. Managers will then feature this solution in our processes to ensure the defects do not occur again.

So, corrective action enables you to resolve the root cause of the problem while ensuring a repeat of the deviation doesn't happen again. Corrective action is reactive.

Corrective actions aim to address internal audit issues, customer complaints, and undesirable product nonconformance. As Statistical Process Control (SPC) identifies, they may also deal with unstable or unfriendly trends in process and product monitoring.

What's the Scope of Corrective Action?

A corrective action plan aims to identify a problem and use available means and resources to address any symptoms.

The primary goal of corrective action is to identify the source or root cause of a problem and take appropriate steps. Corrective action will typically address critical issues, health dangers, safety concerns, and supply concerns. It also takes care of customer requests for change in fit, form, function, and other recurring problems.

Citing Human Resources as an example scenario, corrective action helps communicate with employees on performance expectations and acceptable behavior. Corrective actions come into play as soon as performance measurements and coaching do not work.

A corrective action plan aims to identify a problem and use available means and resources to address any symptoms.

Benefits of Corrective Action

Corrective actions are beneficial in the following ways:

  1. They specify the steps to solve issues.
  2. They ensure that activities are transparent.
  3. They give power to teams.
  4. They provide a basis for future development and needs.
  5. They eliminate the need for a problem-solving wheel.

Issues of Corrective Actions

Even with its impressive benefits, we can expect corrective actions to have some drawbacks. These happen if there's poor implementation of the corrective action such that it becomes a merely bureaucratic routine. In such cases, action requests may receive treatment for minor incidents.

The other issue involves focusing on the symptoms instead of the fundamental causes.

Corrective Action Request (CAR)

A corrective action request or CAR is a feature of manufacturing or production policies. It may be the result of an audit, customer complaints, or a production line occurrence.

As a formal request, CAR aims to remove all sources of nonconformity. Manufacturing nonconformity often stems from the product or production process.

Corrective action requests may address various levels of concern.

Preventive Action

Preventive action is a measure an organization takes to forestall any nonconformity to an organization's primary intentions.

Project management professionals describe preventive action as an intentional activity to ensure the project alignment plan and the future performance of project work are in sync.

Quality management preventive action ensures the prevention of any future defects.

If we chose to begin a production process, we may suspect that defects would crop up during production. We may review the processes and work to prevent any future defects.

Preventive action is proactive. In contrast to corrective action, preventive action anticipates a problem and takes appropriate measures to prevent them from happening.

Preventive action aims to identify possible sources of nonconformity.

Quality management preventive action ensures the prevention of any future defects.

What's the Scope of Preventive Action?

Preventive action usually involves predicting possible problems and crafting fitting plans to mitigate them. Preventive plans help organizations uncover possible deficiencies in their operations before developing measures to prevent them.

What does this identification process involve? We'll find elements such as analysis, internal audits, customer feedback review, full employee and worker participation at every level.

Preventive action involves the following:

  1. stages of investigations
  2. reviewing analysis
  3. taking relevant actions
  4. reviewing results
  5. taking more action as needed

It's easy to see how these processes fit snugly into the Deming-Shewart cycle's Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).

How Does Corrective Action Differ From Preventive Action?

In exploring how corrective actions diverge from preventive actions, definitions are a good place to begin. Corrective actions consist of plans for identifying the root causes of a problem and plotting solutions for the outcomes. Here are other points of difference:

  1. Preventive actions comprise actions for identifying potential risks that could impact operations and create plans to mitigate them.
  2. If we can consider the point of use, organizations apply preventive actions before problems arise. Therefore, preventive actions are a way to resolve consequences and minimize additional risks.
  3. Some corrective actions in manufacturing involve the recall of substandard products after their launch on the market. In HR, it could mean coaching or laying off a worker.
  4. Preventive action processes begin with audits, investigations, and analysis of potential risks. Corrective action processes begin with identifying the causes of an occurring problem. 
  5. While preventive actions are proactive, corrective actions are reactive.

Preventive action processes begin with audits, investigations, and analysis of potential risks.

How Is Corrective Action Similar to Preventive Action?

Just as corrective action and preventive action are different, they also share certain similarities. Here are a few:

  1. Both are similar in intention to ensure the effective and efficient running of all functions of an organization.
  2. Both apply to all industries and any departments within them.
  3. Both fit nicely under the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) philosophy invented by the Deming-Shewhart cycle.
  4. Both sets of actions are Good Manufacturing Practices under the GMP.

Corrective Action and Preventive Action in Practice

We can now look at scenarios of corrective action and preventive action in the real world.

Let's say you're producing five-meter-long metal laminae and discover that some rods have different lengths. You first begin by investigating why this observation is so – the root cause. A bug in the software code is responsible for the defective manufacturing process.

You contact the machine supplier to request the correct code. The technicians do their job, and the machine now produces rods of the right length. It's a classic example of corrective action.

For preventive action, you want to begin producing rods. You may somehow be aware of an issue with the code for producing metal laminae and that this code would cause metal laminae to be different lengths.

Your production floor may prefer to ensure this defect does not occur, so they engage the managers to update the standard procedures to account for the different lengths. Even if they find that defects occur, the exercise itself is an illustration of preventive action to stop the defect from playing out in the future.

Preventive action shares similarities with risk management. Note that the latest version of the Quality Management System (QMS) standard, ISO 9001:2015, does not expect preventive action. Instead, the Quality Management System standard requires organizations to implement RBT or Risk-Based Thinking.

Risk-based thinking requires you to pinpoint aspects with enough potential to impact the QMS where you are unsure of the outcome. It essentially involves:

  • identifying the risk or uncertainty
  • determining if there's a need to take action to prevent undesirable outcomes or leverage positive results

Implementing Corrective and Preventive Action

Actions in corrective or preventive actions should pass through change requests. The reason is that some of these actions may need a plan modification and some change in cost baseline. For the most part, there's not a significant impact on the cost baseline.

The organization bears the cost of corrective or preventive action. These are costs of quality, including the cost of conformance and the cost of nonconformance. The client doesn't pay for it.

While corrective action costs fall under the cost of nonconformance, preventive action costs are a cost of conformance.

The effectiveness of corrective and preventive action is crucially dependent on the systematic investigation of the root causes of failure. Good tools for root cause analysis include the 5 Whys and the Ishikawa diagram.

While corrective action costs fall under the cost of nonconformance, preventive action costs are a cost of conformance.

Using the Corrective and Preventive Action Subsystem

Here is a concise roundup of the purposes of the corrective and preventive action subsystem:

  1. Collection and analysis of information to identify existing and potential product and quality problems.
  2. Investigating product and quality problems and taking necessary and effective preventive and corrective action.
  3. Verification and validation of the effectiveness of corrective and preventive action.
  4. Communicating corrective and preventive action to the appropriate personnel.
  5. Providing information for management review.
  6. Documenting all activities.

A Note on Defect Repair

In discussing corrective and preventive action, it's necessary to review the concept of defect repair. It's the intentional activity to modify a nonconforming product or product component.

Defect repair is the process of replacing or repairing the defective portion of the item. It's an instant action, taken immediately after identification of the defect. Performing the defect repair only happens when the product does not meet the quality requirements.

Therefore, a deliverable is not conforming to requirements if it reveals a discrepancy during an inspection.

According to many experts, defect repair may also be referred to as corrections or rework.

Defect repair is the process of replacing or repairing the defective portion of the item.

Conclusion

Products and processes will always result in some defects, such that there's always some scope for improvement. As soon as a project commences, expect various types of defects and issues to crop up. Each defect requires a different process to properly handle and resolve it.

In corrective action, you observe defects and take steps so that future products do not have these defects. In preventive action, you aim to avoid defects that may emerge in the future. Corrective and preventive action differ from defect repair, where you endeavor to avoid defects in the future and essentially fix the product.

In a nutshell, corrective action prevents recurrence, while preventive action prevents occurrence.

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