The cost of ineffective corrective action can be astronomical when you consider the monetary and reputational impact of delayed problem-solving. On a small scale, repeat problems—even minor errors—send a message to customers that you just don’t care to get it right.
And when poor problem-solving leads to more significant quality escapes? You could be looking at $10,000 per minute from the customer in line stoppage charges, or even a $10 million dollar recall.
To ensure corrective actions reduce risk, automotive and aerospace suppliers need to avoid key mistakes around measuring effectiveness, root cause analysis and tracking closure.
1. Not Measuring Effectiveness Over Time
Most often, corrective actions fail because companies fail to measure their effectiveness over time. This is true for individual corrective actions as well as for the corrective action process as a whole.
After a corrective action is complete, you need a way to determine not only whether it was effective, but also whether you’re holding the gain. Layered process audits (LPAs) are an ideal tool for this type of ongoing verification, with daily audits providing many opportunities for checking high-risk areas.
It’s also important to monitor the health of the corrective action process itself, tracking metrics such as:
- Total number of corrective action requests
- Number of overdue requests (e.g., 30, 45 and/or 60 days overdue)
- Average time to closure, which we talk about more below
2. Shallow Root Cause Analysis
Another major barrier to continuous improvement is ineffective or “check the box” approaches to root cause analysis. Frequently you have someone in an office doing the analysis, blaming every problem on operator error with training as the easiest solution.
Instead, organizations need to make problem-solving a team effort that actually involves people on the shop floor with first-hand knowledge of the issue at hand. Just as important, you need to be willing to ask hard questions and take an honest look at the answers. One way to get to the root cause is to use the ‘5 Whys’ analysis, in which the management asks ‘Why?’ after an answer regarding the root cause to an issue. This interrogative technique is used to fully see the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a problem. Its only when you see the full picture that you get to the true root of quality issues.
3. Lessons Aren’t Shared
The third reason why corrective actions fall short is failure to translate lessons learned from corrective action to other sites, products and processes.
- Resolving a defective airbag problem for a single customer while failing to make appropriate changes to airbags manufactured for other customers
- Correcting a defective wire harness in a North American factory without notifying plants in other countries that a change of material is needed
- Fixing a flawed process for one product yet not considering how a similar error applies to other processes
It may be cheaper to skip the follow-through, at least in the short run. But ultimately, the price of letting problems become systemic is far steeper, impacting your most important client relationships and even the business as a whole.
4. Long Closure Times
Taking too long to fix problems is not something regulators tolerate, imposing millions in fines to individual companies for failing to fix problems in a timely manner. While it’s true that some complex issues can take weeks (or longer) to correct, it’s critical to recognize that delayed closure times increase the risk of quality escapes.
In fact, average time to closure for corrective actions is often a leading indicator of quality problems. Leading indicators are metrics that point to what might happen in the future, compared to lagging indicators that measure results.
As an example, you might notice that customer complaints (a lagging indicator) start creeping up when average time to closure goes up. Making this connection means you can take action to keep time to closure as low as possible—before problem-solving delays translate into customer complaints.
5. Administrative Pitfalls
Many organizations still use manual or paper-based approaches to managing corrective action, which creates many opportunities for requests to get delayed.
Filling out paper forms, assigning corrective actions, following up with responsible individuals—miss any one of these tasks and your corrective action process falls apart. Automation can help eliminate the cracks in your process, providing additional benefits for those who integrate corrective action with internal process audits. An automated audit platform allows you to:
- Assign mitigations and corrective actions on the spot during mobile audits to promote problem-solving culture
- Make corrective action a team effort by routing requests to the right people at the right time
- Shorten time to closure by escalating missed steps to supervisors
- Add new questions to audits based on past corrective actions for continuous verification of effectiveness
Closing the loop through automation can eliminate many of the problems discussed here and set the foundation for a culture of quality. An authentic commitment to solving problems is at the heart of quality culture, making corrective action a high-impact area where small changes can lead to big results.