Choosing which action is required: Corrective or Preventative

Following on from my last blog, if a proposed action will affect the integrity of your management system, then it is a corrective or preventative action.  Now, all we have to do is determine which action type of action is being implemented: corrective or preventative?

As mentioned previously, this is fairly straightforward and recognising what is triggering the action helps.  If you have discovered that something has gone wrong, e.g., a customer’s delivery is late, your widgets are the wrong size, etc., then something needs to be put right or corrected; we implement corrective action.  Alternatively, if you can envisage that a problem that could happen, but hasn’t yet, then you are looking to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place; we implement preventative action.  So far so good, but what is it that triggers these actions, exactly?

Within a correctly-implemented management system, of whatever kind, there will be mechanisms allowing management to review activities, processes and products, to ensure that they continue to function within acceptable parameters.  These mechanisms include all types of monitoring and measurement activities (for processes and products/services), management review/meetings, and internal auditing.  I like to classify these system monitoring activities as either contemporaneous or reflective.

The contemporaneous monitoring and measurement activities, deployed directly into your processes, give you feedback about your systems as they are running currently and, when things go wrong, trigger your corrective actions.  The reflective monitoring and measurement activities, including your management review/meetings and auditing activities, are when you are dedicating time to self-checking, and allow you to determine what could go wrong, triggering preventative action to stop it happening.

Given the above, it follows that the majority of your corrective actions should be coming from your everyday monitoring and measurement activities.  Your systems must be implemented so that processes producing nonconforming product (any output that is outside acceptable parameters) is caught at the time at which it occurs, or at the very least recorded so that you can look back at what happened.  I use an 80:20 guideline when I’m doing a gap analysis of the action triggers; around 80% of your corrective actions should be generated from your normal production or service provision activities, whilst around 80% of your preventative actions should be generated from your reviews and self-checking activities.

Does it really matter what triggers which action?  Absolutely.  If you trigger ratios are significantly different from those above, then you may need to question how your system has been implemented.  For example, I worked with an organisation where the majority of their corrective actions were generated as a result of internal audit findings.  In effect, the failure had occurred (and possibly made it out to the customer) and no one had noticed until however many months later when that part of the management system was audited!  Really?  If your monitoring and measurements systems are not picking-up nonconforming product, then what on Earth are you monitoring and measuring?

Between the contemporaneous and reflective systems, the majority of your actions should be comfortably within your control.  Without such well implemented systems, managers spend too much time firefighting, and not enough time managing.

Oh, and as a final point, please don’t forget that the reason you are changing your management system is to make it better!  Improvement is what we after not change for change’s sake.  Do not mistake activity for progress.