Mistakes and errors happen in life and business. Is there any value in understanding the nature of a solution before it is implemented? Absolutely!
Start with Definitions
Corrective action is the collection of actions taken to remedy an existing error and the work done to prevent future occurrences of the same error. An example is producing defective parts because of an incorrect specification. Corrective action could include fixing the damaged parts plus the work needed to correct the specification to prevent the same error.
Preventive action is the work done to prevent an error from occurring in the first place. For example, you may have a personal rule to never let your vehicle’s gas tank fall below one-quarter full. This prevents being stranded on the side of the road with no fuel.
Both Approaches are Needed to Succeed
The need for corrective action is always more obvious because the existing error attracts attention and urgency. The cost of the mistake itself (e.g., waste of materials and labor) and the cost to correct it are often easily calculated.
Opportunity costs are also involved and visible because it’s clear when an employee has to be pulled off another project to provide the manpower needed to get back on track.
Preventive action, however, can be harder to sell to management. The cost of making sure something doesn’t happen is more difficult to calculate. These actions often take the form of planning, training, risk/gap analysis, preventive maintenance, housekeeping and so on.
The return on investment may be hard to quantify and justify when compared to a project with a clear, high-value return. Yet studies indicate that $1 spent on prevention will save $7 in failures/defects.
Each Approach Belongs in Your Strategy
Preventive action is generally more desirable, yet errors and mistakes will still happen. A corrective action process allows for calm and effective resolution of unexpected issues.
About the Author
Lori Cohen is a certified quality and process improvement professional. She is a past president of Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN). She currently serves as secretary of the Rochester Chapter of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). For more information, please visit http://www.compassqs.com.