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Corrective Actions and when you do or don't do one?


Jul 23, 2015
I'm not going to belaboring why I need to ask what I consider a basic question. I'm simply going to ask and calibrate myself if need be based on feedback.

I work in a small shop (20 people). Historically, adoption of a Quality Management System followed by ISO 9001 Certification has been . . . spotty. We have some really well qualified machinists mind you, no issues there, and our customer complaints and returns are pretty low.

I'm re-qualifying the criteria by which a Corrective Action is, or is not generated. Call it "refresher training".


Criteria triggering a CAR: When a Customer Complaint is received. Is this a Yes or No in your shop?

It doesn't matter if the problem turns out to be on the Customer end, because that determination itself comes from Root Cause investigation on a CAR, followed by identification of corrective/preventive actions (if any) for either our shop, or in cases with ISO certified customers, Corrective Actions sent to them.


Wing it word of mouth. Someone gets a customer complaint phone call, some mix of people talk to each other and the customer, "stuff" gets figured out in an infinity of configurations (rework, no rework, replacements sent no cost or costed, workholding changes on our floor needed or not, etc.).

After everyone has "done stuff" and everything is "fixed", as an afterthought consider backdating a CAR entry in the Corrective Actions system as a paperwork exercise, assuming everyone remembers what they talked through, are now done with, and have moved on to other work.

In other words:

You do have to make a decision whether something justifies a CAR or not. You can't CAR every little thing, that's not the point to Corrective Actions. A Customer Complaint however is, in my opinion, typically a straight forward trigger: Generate a CAR, document the steps and findings.

Alternately, as example, if there is an internal catch pre-shipment, there is more flexibility in making that decision. If the process is working, evidenced by the catch, there might not be a need to generate a CAR. The process worked, problem was caught, double check nothing new/unreasonable is involved and if not don't bother with a CAR.

If, however, something new is identified requiring action be taken (training, workholding, heat-treating, sequence of machining changed, whatever), then a CAR is needed for an internal issue because an action is necessary to enable a fix.

Is this high-level reasoning reasonably in-line with how you make decisions on when to, and when not to, create a Corrective Action?


Nov 30, 2018
Michigan, USA
That depends on how your particular ISO is set up. Ours uses "all" and "none" and such as much as possible to prevent decision making like this from being an official part of the process. Sounds like customer feedback is a place you are targeting for that kind of language.

The benefit of having a process is to remove decision making from people who are not qualified to make that particular decision. However, documenting every last little thing is a waste of manpower. An executive manager I really respect sat me down and drew out a graph, showing the optimal line between process and individual capability. Above the line you have wasted time following steps that the individual employees could skip without causing problems. Below the line you have some gaps where people are using their judgement and might not always get it right, leading to inconsistency. You probably know all this already but this is a good way for me to visualize it.

Only you know where to put your procedures so that you're on the line. That's one of the reasons why ISO is so open-ended. Taking a look at this every once in a while to make sure that everything is still where it should be is a good idea.

Right now I'm struggling with this a bit since I am the engineering department here, so I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants in the top left corner. We hired a guy this summer fresh out of school, and it became obvious that we were suddenly in the orange zone. He is a LT in the National Guard so he took 3 months away for officer commission training, meaning I have one more month to come up with something to get a 2-man department onto the line. It's not an easy task, but it's an important one.



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Jul 23, 2015
I appreciate the reply.

Essentially I'm looking at what you've described: In the case of a CUSTOMER COMPLAINT no one has to engage any subjective voodoo. It's a CAR. Because it's a Customer Complaint.

So, I'm pinging the community here for responses.

Thanks much.