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The Qualiverse - Corrective Action

Boost your organization’s success with putting an effective corrective action process in place.

I loved playing with Nerf guns as a kid. Scratch that... I love playing with Nerf guns. Period. They are fun as heck, and they continue to get more creative, novel, and innovative. They get the kids outside, make them run around and have fun. It’s awesome. Back in the day, one of my friends had a traumatic experience with a Nerf gun, where one of the foam bullets caught him right in the eye. He had fuzzy vision and his eye puffed up for days. His trauma obviously had an effect on me as well, but the fix was obvious: just wear glasses when you play with Nerf guns. Easy! You can still run around like a maniac, still come up with all sorts of crazy games, and look super tough in some sporty, “operator” sunglasses. Oh, and not shoot your eye out! It’s a win-win. My friend, however, did not get the memo. Not two weeks after his swelling went away, he got shot in the eye AGAIN by one of the sharp shooters on the other team. The protective-eyewear-fix only lasted two outings and then was put to the wayside. New habits are tough to form.

The same can be true in business. A lot can go wrong. We can have escalation meetings and post-mortem meetings every time something goes sideways. We can come up with truly brilliant improvements that get logged in the meeting minutes. People walk away feeling like they accomplished something. Unfortunately, though, those brilliant ideas so often simply stay in the meeting minutes to die. Written once, read once. Or one or two people from the escalation meeting may try out the new idea for a week or two, and then it just disappears into the ether. No actual change gets enacted, just lip service.

Prevent repeating the same mistake

At the core of any quality management system worth its salt is an effective corrective action process. Mistakes are going to happen. If they don’t, you’re not trying hard enough. The key, though, is to only make them once. And to come up with a way where your entire team only makes that same mistake once. That is where the effectiveness comes into play. Let’s explore this.

Uncover issues and necessary corrective actions

Uncovering corrective actions can come from several different places. Issues can be identified by internal team members as something that needs to be fixed. These trigger “Corrective” corrective actions. Internal team members can also identify something that can simply be improved, where nothing is wrong, per se, but it could be better. These types of issues trigger “Preventive” corrective actions. Lastly, issues can be uncovered by clients as “Customer Complaints”. These are the painful ones, as it’s always better to catch issues before the client notices. These issues follow the same process, but it is recommended to keep the client informed of the process, so they are assured their complaint was heard, logged, and actions are being taken to address it.

After the issue is identified, if immediate actions can be taken to temporarily fix the issue, they should be taken. This could be an equipment swap, providing standby resources, renting a new space, etc. It’s not a final corrective action to the problem, but it gets the client or team by while we work to fix the actual issue. It’s a Band-Aid.

Should you band-aid it?

Here’s the tricky part. Just throwing a Band-Aid at the issue, or taking some “AV Advil”, hopefully addresses the immediate symptoms, but it might not be addressing the actual problem. The team needs to spend time identifying the root cause of the issue before a final corrective action can be executed. Let’s say an amplifier dies in a system after a week of use. You might be tempted to immediately swap the amplifier without performing a root cause analysis around the problem. That new amplifier might then die the week after. Should we throw a third amp at the problem, or should we figure out what’s going on? What if the loudspeakers were not tapped appropriately and were presenting the amplifier with a dangerously low impedance? We could throw amplifiers at that problem all day, and they would continue to break (or go into Protection Mode, if they’re fancy enough). Unless we spend time uncovering the root cause of the issue (“Improperly tapped loudspeakers presenting too low an impedance to the amplifier” in this case), our corrective actions aren’t addressing the actual issue. Root Cause Analysis is a very important step in the process.

Get to the root cause

Once a root cause is identified, we can proceed with creating a corrective action. This should permanently address the issue and make things right with the users and/or the team. In our amplifier example, instead of replacing the amplifier, we would re-tap the loudspeakers to remedy the root cause first before replacing the amp. In addition to the corrective action, sometime a preventive action can be identified. A preventive action is something that will prevent this issue from happening again on other projects. Looking at the amplifier example, a preventive action would include measuring the loudspeaker line impedance BEFORE powering on the amplifiers to test the loudspeaker installation as well as keeping our amplifiers safe. In fact, this example is exactly where checklist item 6.2.1 on the AQAV AV9000 Commissioning Checklist came from. (Not letting the magic smoke out of the amplifiers is also the reason it’s the first audio test in the checklist!).

That was a great exercise, right? We identified a problem. We found the root cause. We came up with a corrective action AND a preventive action. I feel pretty good about myself, do you? What’s missing?

Hold your team accountable to the changes

We must share it with the entire team. We also must draw a line in the sand as to when the entire team will be informed of the new process, trained on how to do it, and be providing evidence that they are implementing it. This is the hard part, but this is also where the effectiveness of the process comes in to play. Without holding the team accountable, it’s just another feel-good meeting. We must include the challenging aspect of applying the required change. There also needs to be someone responsible for following up on the change. Following up includes verifying that the change has indeed taken place, and letting the team and client know the results of the audit. If the change stuck: Hooray! We just made the team more powerful and able to provide better service for our clients. If not, the entire process starts again. It’s not easy or even necessary to change, but keep in mind, survival is not mandatory.

The most important step of all

That last step is the most valuable, in my opinion. It’s the most powerful. It’s where companies improve. It also starts to change the entire culture at an organization. A lot of people mistake “corrective actions” for tattling on their friends. But once they see the process and what’s involved, they see the impact it could have almost immediately. You tend to focus on process during corrective actions, more so than who did what. It’s about making the entire team better and supporting the mission of the organization more effectively. The whole point of Nerf gun battles is to have fun. Wearing glasses could have improved the entire process if only my friend had stuck to our corrective action, but that’s the hard part. You’d think the threat of hearing your parents say, “You’ll shoot your eye out” would be motivation enough to continue to wear PPE, or more to the point, shooting your eye out...TWICE! He was not accountable for the recommended change. That cannot happen in business today. Users will not stand for it. They look for and align with companies who walk their talk. They tend to shy away from the companies who make the same mistake repeatedly. Therefore, having an effective corrective action process in place is so critical to an organization’s success.

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