Corrective, Preventive, or Continual Improvement?

I find that some organizations are having trouble distinctly identifying the three types of improvement in clause 8.5: corrective, preventive, and continual. Fixing an actual, detected problem in such a way as to prevent its “recurrence” is corrective action. When you anticipate a potential problem (based on risk planning or trend analysis) and take action to prevent its “occurrence”, that is preventive action.

Some people think that by correcting a known problem so it is prevented from happening again, they have taken preventive action. No, that is just part of a full and complete corrective action. While ongoing corrective and preventive actions provide improvement, another type of improvement can be made to conforming processes and products. You may want to do things faster and better, not triggered by problems or expected problems, but based on your monitoring of quality objectives and suggestions for improvement.

Continual improvement is a recurring, step-by-step, activity that increases the ability of an organization to meet requirements. Don’t rely solely on corrective and preventive actions to improve your system. Continually seek to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your processes; don’t  wait for problems to reveal opportunities for improvement.

Improvements can range from simple small-step improvements to strategic breakthrough projects. The key is to have a process in place to identify and manage the improvement activities. These improvements may result in changes to the product, processes, system, or even the organization. To set up a continual improvement process, read Annex B, Process for Continual Improvement, in ISO 9004:2000.

Management review meetings cover process performance and product conformity, as well as, recommendations for improvement. These reviews should be the forum for identifying possible improvements and recording any decisions and actions. The results of planned improvements will be reviewed at future meetings and provide evidence of your continual improvement process.