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Nonconformities vs. Corrective Actions

"It's just a rework - don't make me do a Corrective Action form - the paperwork will take longer than the fix"....  Ever heard that??? There's a huge difference between NonConformities and Corrective Actions, but if you are the type of company who gets a customer return, and they demand a corrective action every time, you've probably come to dread these concepts.  Lets step back from the visceral "I hate paperwork" reaction that we all have for just a minute, and discuss the uses and purposes for nonconformities and corrective actions. There are many things that could potential fall into the NonConformity  (NC) category -especially since ISO defines a NC as "non-fulfillment of a requirement" - but for most of us, it breaks down to:

  1. Product failure - it looked right, you delivered it, but it's not working right and you are asked to rework, or replace it - (hard $$ loss)

  2. Rework - something needs fixing during/after production - (soft $$ loss)

  3. Audit finding - your documentation says you do things one way, but the auditor found something different - (no immediate visible impact...or is there?)

At first glance, in the world of customer satisfaction, this is definitely a 1 is worst case, and 3 is least critical. But there's a hidden factor in here.  If your job is crisis management - always running around fixing complaints and reworks (ISO calls these fixes "Correction") - then your Quality Management System is not working for you because you're stuck at the product level.  The problem with the fireman approach to quality management is you're stuck in "what" - fixing problems in categories 1 & 2, instead of limiting them by addressing "why" they occurred when you found them in category 3. 

That's where Corrective Actions (CA) come in.  Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that for every internal rework you have to do a CA analysis - if you did you'd never get product out the door - but if you don't keep a record of every time someone has to redo, rework, or replace already completed work, you'll never know where you need to focus attention to look at the "why" for all that wasted machine time, material, and labor (the invisible $$ hemorrhaging from your company). 

Addressing a NC is 3 steps:

NC identification (what is wrong)      ->     Correction (fix the product)     ->   Record what was wrong, reason it happened, result (rework/replace/ Use-As-Is)

So what if there was a better way than repeating this first cycle again and again?  How about learning from problems instead of being stuck in fix-it mode.  That's where those records of rework come in... once you know the most common types of errors (NC trends), you can address their causes one by one and cut down the time and $$ lost in rework.

The record keeping part is 3 steps too: NC records  ->   NC trend data   ->  Data analysis to determine issues requiring Corrective Action The Corrective Action process takes you from problem, through reason it happened, to deciding what to do to prevent it ever happening again.  It's purpose is not to assign blame or make someone promise to pay more attention next time (a common misunderstanding), but to help you discover the weakness in your QMS that allowed the NC to occur.  Once you know what's wrong with your system, then as a team you can decide what needs to change in your process.  Be sure to involve those who will carry out the new process - they have to own it, and will know what won't work.

The Corrective Action process is 4 steps: NC trend  ->  Root cause  (whats wrong with the system, not a person)  ->  Corrective Action  (what do we do to prevent this happening again)  -> Followup to see if the corrective action was completed, and was effective. We'll discuss Root Cause Analysis another time.  For now, if you hear someone say "Now what?"  and you know that it's not the first time that problem has happened, consider digging down to "Why" and doing a corrective action -- even if an outside body ISN'T requiring it. Happy improving!


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