When is a Corrective Action…NOT?

The industrialized world is overrun with experts, gurus, authors, consultants and people like me that will be happy to supply a variety of “tools” that you can use to make your business more….(fill in the blank here). The quality blogs have discussions about which is better—Design of Experiments (DOE) or regression analysis and similar academic subjects. It reminds me of the time I saw the famous health professional on PBS. After several questions from the audience about which exercise is the best; swimming, running, weight training, etc. he finally answered; “The best exercise is the one you do”.

Here is the challenge with all of those tools. They only work if you use them. Improving your business operation is very much like improving your health. Just as the garages and basements of America are filled with dusty exercise equipment and workout videos, many companies have spent money on training programs, software and consultant based transformation packages such as Lean or Six Sigma. Just as with your personal health, there is no silver bullet you can purchase to instantly improve your operation. Improvement will begin when you find your best exercise, that is, “the one you do”.

If you are in the manufacturing field you have probably encountered a Corrective Action Report (CAR), Discrepant Material Report (DMR) or a variation of this document. Often it is part of a formal problem solving process referred to as 8D or TOPS which is, in turn, a subset of the overall corporate procedures to promote product quality. This is one of the simplest tools you can apply to any operation. You can make it work without an “extreme makeover” team of consultants and a multi-year plan. You can train most of your personnel in its application with little fanfare and you can apply it to problems from the front office to the shipping dock. It will not save you thirty million dollars in the first thirty days.

Here is what it will do:

• It will cause your manufacturing and business systems to become better, little by little, day by day through small changes that prevent problems.

• It will shift your organization’s efforts away from “work arounds” and repairs to continuous improvement.

• It will reduce the tendency to assign blame and increase the tendency to fixing problems.

• It will develop personal accountability by reducing fear of punishment, requiring problem resolution and providing a tool to do so.

• It will shift the burden of dealing with bad material, data, product, etc. to the natural owner, not the user (customer).

• It will prevent downstream disruptions and additional cost by removing defective material, data, product, etc. from the process stream.

• It will develop the analysis and communication skills of your personnel.

If you are not already using this tool, you should make it “the one you do” immediately. If you currently use this procedure, or you plan to start tomorrow, use any form you like, call it what you will, but it must have these key characteristics. Otherwise, it is NOT a corrective action.

1.   A clear statement of the Discrepancy (or defect) in terms of customer (internal or external) expectations. Example: Address information incorrect on Form A123 or Tapped hole missing on one of twenty pieces, part no. A123. The statement does not describe how the condition occurred; i.e. typist double keyed entry and it does not describe why; i.e. typist had wrong information.

2.   A description of the action taken to remove the discrepant material (documents, parts, information, etc.) from the process stream and prevent it from re-entering the process stream. This is called Containment and it is NOT the end of the corrective action process.

3.   A description of the action taken to “dispose” of the problem from the customer’s point of view. The customer needs no further action to continue his/her process. Accounting adjustments are made, parts are replaced, information is corrected, etc. This is Disposition, the problem is not necessarily resolved and prevented long term but the customer is no longer affected by this event.

4.   A clear statement of the Immediate Cause based on investigation. Example: machine operator did not complete drill/tap operation or typist did not detect double keyed entry. Note: this is rarely the same as the root cause of the problem.

5.   A clear statement of what allowed the condition to occur. Look for a weakness in your system such as lack of training, control, information or an assignable cause such as a worn machine component. This will be the root cause. A simple way to get to the Root Cause is the five whys method. Think of the song I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. She swallowed the cat to catch the bird…immediate cause. Why did she swallow the fly…root cause?

6.   A clear statement of what was changed in processes, systems, procedures, training, controls, etc. to prevent the problem from happening again. This is the Corrective Action. If possible test the corrective action by turning the change on and off and recreating or simulating the discrepancy.

7.   Some procedures have a separate step to validate the corrective action. I prefer to use the form closure as Validation that the corrective action is in place and working. This method works well with computerized production control systems where the open document can be flagged for the next production run, customer order, etc. and reviewed for validation.

If the words in the sixth step sound suspiciously like the words in step two or three, it is probably NOT a valid corrective action. Remember, the primary reason you use this procedure is to make your operation better by eliminating the possibility of producing defects. This is a simple process to master but it requires leadership. Just going through the motions is like touching your toes with your knees bent. You can say you did it, but what’s the point?

Running the marathon is only good exercise if you do it. Start by walking to the mail box. A transformational, project style improvement plan is only effective if you do it, start with a corrective action procedure and do it all the time, every time. Your product will improve every day and you will begin to create a culture that will lead you to the marathon.

If you would like a copy of a Discrepant Material Form along with an instructional “cheat sheet” send me an email or go to the web site and click on the request for information button at www.MFGmadeEZ.com. That’s manufacturing made easy.

Bill MacDonald info@MFGmadeEZ.com

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