Using corrective actions to drive continual improvement in IATF 16949

One of the key components of an IATF 16949-based Quality Management System (QMS) is continual improvement, and one of the best tools for accomplishing this goal is the corrective action. Corrective actions don’t just offer a quick fix to a problem; they are vital to the identification and successful elimination of its root cause. The article that follows will offer an overview of the corrective action process, and its relationships with nonconformities and continual improvement, which will help you when you get ready to implement a system for corrective action in your QMS.

Nonconformities and the corrective action process

When you have nonconformity – a problem, such as a defect in a product – the first step is to correct the immediate source of the problem to stop the complaints from your customers. This is known as a correction. Once a correction is in place, it’s time to investigate the root cause of the problem – the true source of the defect. This is a corrective action, which is how you make sure that this particular defect won’t occur again. That is the relationship between corrective action and nonconformities.

Take, for example, a piece of equipment that breaks down due to a lack of regular maintenance. The immediate need is to repair the equipment and send a reminder about the importance of regular maintenance. However, this does nothing to fix the root cause of the breakdown. By using the corrective action process, you can determine the reason why regular maintenance was lacking. It could be that this piece of equipment was added after the last update of the maintenance plan. Or, perhaps the maintenance plan wasn’t communicated to those who needed it. Regardless of the root cause, by addressing it through the corrective action process, you can make sure it never happens again.

How can corrective action lead to continual improvement?

It’s true that the continual improvement process is at the core of the Quality Management System and its betterment, but you can also show improvement by utilizing your corrective action process. This is evident when you look at the previous scenario, and the fact that the product defect has been eliminated due to addressing the root cause, but there are other ways in which corrective action can lead to improvement.

When you take the time to discover the root cause of a nonconformity, and address it through corrective action, you are more likely to come across information you can use to improve this and other processes. You might find that similar equipment breakdowns have caused several accidents, and use this information to implement an improvement initiative to address regular maintenance in your company. Or, perhaps equipment malfunctions have led to many cases of lost time, in which case looking into a maintenance program could bring about improvement. Using your corrective action process to discover new paths to improvement will only benefit your company processes.

Corrective action – Not just necessary, but beneficial

It’s unfortunate, but many organizations have trouble with corrective actions. When this is the case, such organizations often see the corrective action process as a necessary evil – something they must do according to IATF 16949, but that brings no value to their QMS. This can be due to many reasons, such as a failure to understand the process, or neglecting the follow-up evaluation so the problem returns again and again, or even using the process for minor issues just to be able to say they use it. Regardless of the reason, an organization will lose confidence in the process if it fails to achieve the planned results.

But, when used properly to take care of the most pressing nonconformities, and following up to ensure its effectiveness, the corrective action process is an excellent tool to help discover areas for improvement and prevent nonconformities from recurring. In short, it ensures continual improvement of your QMS and of your business in general. And isn’t that why you implemented a QMS to begin with?

Use this free Why IATF 16949:2016? – Awareness Presentation to demonstrate to your employees the basic details of IATF 16949.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.