What’s a corrective action plan?
According to the ISO 9001 (quality management system) standard, corrective actions are ‘efforts taken to eliminate the recurrence of a problem.’ A corrective action plan is a list of corrective actions put in place when the manufacturer (or its customer) has found quality problems in a batch of their products, worrying deviations in the way its processes are run, or some other event that is deemed sufficiently serious to justify an analysis and implementation of countermeasures.
Note: it is often relatively close in its structure to ‘preventive actions’. The main difference lies in the initial trigger:
- Corrective action: ‘there is an issue, we need to react and make sure it doesn’t come back, or at least that it is less likely to happen’.
- Preventive action: ‘we are thinking of a potential issue, we want to act before it occurs so it is less likely to happen’.
The plan provides a process through which the manufacturer can investigate the nature of the problem, what is causing it, how to put it right, implement the necessary changes, and confirm the actions did lead to the expected result. Rather than just fire-fighting a solution without finding the root cause, it provides a systematic and logical process to follow that should result in a longer-lasting solution.
In the most common situation, bad products are made, and that triggers some reactions, which can be categorized as follows:
1. Short term: fixing the bad products now, and ensuring they are not sent to a customer
- Correction: Fix the bad products.
- When to use it? A batch of products is found to have problems
- Objective: Make that batch acceptable for shipment
- Acts on: Products
- Time horizon: Quick! Ship in the next few days
- Needs training? The team does not need much training, it is relatively straightforward
2. Long term: fixing the factory’s systems and processes
- Corrective action: Take steps to prepare for a better future
- When to use it? A problem was detected (usually a quality issue), the ‘bleeding has stopped’, and there is time to work on process improvements
- Objective: Make sure a certain problem does not (or is less likely to) happen again in the future
- Acts on: The factory’s systems and processes
- Time horizon: Mid to long term
- Needs training? Yes (most people are poor at identifying root causes and at evaluating effectiveness)
What’s included in a corrective action plan?
Here’s a visual representation of a typical corrective action plan template with steps and actions that can be used to fix both products and processes:
(Note: there are many frameworks in use out there, and this is only one of them. One very popular alternative is the 8D framework.)
Let’s dig into each step in a bit more detail:
- Clarify the Problem: What is the problem, how was it found and with what method, etc? Should more data be collected?
Make sure people working on the process know about this problem. If the same problem keeps happening in production, should they stop production?
- Break Down the Problem: Analyze your findings. Is this due to only 1 problem or several? Use a tree diagram and/or a Pareto chart if appropriate. Use an FMEA to identify risks and problems, if that helps. (Note: if there are actually several distinct problems, you may need to work on several plans in parallel.)
- Set a Target: What level of improvement do you (and the production staff) think is sufficient and realistic? For example, if 20% of the stamped parts have certain defects, you might set a target of 5% in 1 month and 2% in 3 months. This will communicate clearly what the timelines are and will give an idea of what effort (resources) is needed.
- Analyze the Root Cause(s): Observe the process, the components, the products, etc. carefully. Ask the people who worked on the process for their opinion. What is/are the root cause(s) of the problem? Use a fishbone diagram if appropriate. (Note: this is often very poorly done. It is necessary to spend some time in this step.)
- Think of Corrective Action(s): For each root cause, what should be done to avoid this problem in the future? What can be done now to make this batch acceptable? (Examples: rework, sort and scrap…) Get the opinion of the production staff. Do you see risks in the method they are proposing?
- Implement Corrective Action(s): If the factory agrees, have them apply the corrective action(s). Otherwise, have them promise to do it later at a certain time. Are they doing something to make this batch acceptable? If not, do they promise to do it soon? Note what you see and what you are told.
- Monitor Results and Process: Are corrective action(s) well applied? Do they have an impact on the products/processes? Compare to the target(s) set in step 3. Are you finding an improvement, and are you reaching the target(s)? Detail your method and how many samples you checked. Also, make sure the improvements are well documented.
- Standardize and Congratulate: If step 7 is positive, is the factory ensuring that the corrective action(s) will always be applied in the future? If they have done a good job, say thanks to the team who did it.
Read more about corrective action plans: