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Reducing Overdue Corrective Actions: A Practical Guide

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Mon, Mar 12, 2018

Reducing Overdue Corrective Actions: A Practical GuideImagine a situation where your plant has a huge backlog of corrective actions 30, 60, even 90 days overdue. Defects and complaints are high, quality costs are rising and nobody seems motivated to fix the problem.

You got a nonconformance from your ISO registrar because of it, and you’ve got another audit next week where you’ll surely get hammered again. One of your most valued team members is so frustrated with the inaction and lack of accountability, he’s looking for a new job. Sound extreme?

It’s more common than you think.

Today we’re tackling the issue of overdue corrective actions, providing a practical guide for turning the ship around so you can stop this destructive cycle.

Focus on Problem-Solving Instead of Paperwork

For many companies, corrective action is just another form to fill out in a mountain of paperwork. It’s that “check the box” attitude that eats away at quality performance, and something you must aggressively fight to prevent issues from recurring (or snowballing into something worse).

So, if you’re looking at your corrective action problem and thinking “We’re not closing these out fast enough,” you’re missing the point. After all, you can get paperwork done in a certain amount of time. Just look at places where they close out the corrective actions the day before they’re due and open new ones. Boom! No more overdue requests. 

The true purpose of corrective action is to solve problems. This recognition is essential to reducing overdue corrective actions.

Create Fewer Corrective Actions

Companies often get bogged down in corrective actions because they create too many of them in the Quality Management System (QMS). Every nonconformance gets a corrective action, obscuring larger problems.

The solution? Issue small corrections on the spot, reserving corrective actions for those that require deeper root cause investigation or multiple steps. Also, consider whether you can tie the corrective action to a specific quality metric. If it doesn’t, it might not belong in the system at all.

Focus on the Meaningful Few

Even if you’ve tried reducing the number of requests initiated, you still may feel overloaded. In these cases, what you need is to prioritize your corrective actions. A few of strategies can be helpful:

  • Assessing risk: If you’re using an automated QMS, you can ideally add a risk assessment for each corrective action. You can then sort open requests by risk instead of by due date.
  • Leveraging the Pareto principle: Similar to assessing risk, you can start by identifying the 20% of corrective actions that represent 80% of problems. Include cost data so that you’re not focusing on 15 occurrences of a low-cost issue vs. just a few instances of a higher-cost issue.
  • Customizing your processes: Consider creating separate workflows for different types of requests in the QMS, whether by category, risk level or department. This makes it easier to organize the corrective actions and draw larger connections between problems.

Get Management on Board

Overdue corrective actions are a sign of poor quality culture, which starts at the top. Leadership sets the tone, so if top management isn’t on board, you’re going to face an uphill battle.

When top management is actually motivated to solve the problem, the resources you need will fall into place. How do you get them to take action? One great way is to quantify the cost of failures in terms of metrics like scrap, warranty and recall costs. When leaders see how it’s impacting the bottom line (and thus their own performance record), they may be quicker to help.

Do a Corrective Action on Your Corrective Action System

Our final tip is do a corrective action on your corrective action system itself. Applying the 5 Whys or other problem-solving methods, you can evaluate the root cause and develop an action plan from there. Action items may include:

  • Holding regular meetings with management to review corrective actions, discus strategies and extension requests.
  • Improving employee training around corrective actions, if staff confusion is part of what’s holding the team back.
  • Creating a corrective action team to answer questions, monitor progress and hold people accountable.
  • Automating your routing system so that people get automatic notifications when they are responsible for any part of a corrective action. This ensures the request gets to the right person at the right time, streamlining the process and reducing time to closure.

The solutions you develop will be unique to your situation and root cause. The most critical element is treating a huge backlog of overdue corrective actions as the grave concern that it is. Get it wrong, and you could face massive recalls, penalties and costs. Take a proactive stance, and you could save your company millions.

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Rachel Beavins Tracy
Rachel Tracy is a writer for ETQ with expertise in environmental, healthcare and technology topics. She has a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and has been writing for businesses since 2008.
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