By Denise Robitaille
Recently I had a minor problem with the bathroom sink at the hotel. Water was draining at a trickle’s pace, leaving scummy water stagnating in the basin overnight.
To have correctly stated the issue, I would have said, “The sink isn’t draining properly.” However, my mind immediately leapt to: “That sucker needs a good plunging.”
In less than a heartbeat I went from problem to solution, completely bypassing even the faintest glimmer of an inquiry into what was causing the slow trickle.
It occurred to me that we do this all the time. We rarely pause to go through the mental gymnastics of the situation. For example, the sink isn’t draining properly:
- Is it clogged? Perhaps.
- Could it be a larger and denser obstruction?
- Should I try using a plunger or a chemical drain cleaner?
- Is there a greater risk of one method over the other?
- If it isn’t a simple clog, will the chemical cleaner create a bigger problem?
- Based upon prior experience and how the sink is generally used, the plunger option is a low-risk tactic that will probably solve the problem.
- The outcome? Plunge the sucker!
In terms of everyday life, we’d probably be paralyzed into inaction if we consistently paused to perambulate through these comatose-inducing mental mazes. Therefore, the normal inclination is to assume we know what is wrong and act accordingly.
When then should we delve into the root cause? And, why is this discussion relevant to auditing?
Sometimes our expertise, previous history, and a cursory assessment of risk lead us to the logical conclusion that the appropriate action is correction. Fix the defect. Make note of the action and move on. Correction is an acceptable action that is defined in ISO 9000:2015.
ISO 9001:2015 has an escape clause: “Corrective actions shall be appropriate to the effects of the nonconformities encountered.” An organization needs to understand effects, which means it needs to understand the implicit risk. Sometimes, it’s OK not to do corrective action.
Problems arise when the cause really isn’t apparent or there is serious risk if root cause analysis isn’t done and we still take the short cut. We make inappropriate assumptions of the nature of the cause based on opinion or incorrect and/or inadequate information.
A quality management system has requirements relative to addressing customer complaints, investigating the cause of problems, and having an effective corrective action process.
It’s up to the auditor to assess if problems have been appropriately addressed through either correction or corrective action. If it is apparent that corrective action should have been initiated, the first step should have been to conduct root cause analysis. In the absence of the root cause analysis step, it’s impossible to have a consistently effective corrective action process. Bearing in mind that the purpose of the audit process is to assess both conformance and effectiveness, an auditor could rightly raise findings relative to failures in both risk-based thinking and implementation of corrective action requirements.
Individuals must be cognizant of their natural inclination to resist root cause analysis and determine when it is essential that the tendency be overruled so that the organizations can implement the process needed to solve problems and experience improvements.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is the author of numerous books on various quality topics. She is an internationally recognized speaker who brings years of experience in business and industry to her work in the quality profession. Denise is an active member of U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is chair of ISO/PC 302, Guidelines for auditing management systems. She is also an Exemplar Global-certified lead assessor, an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, and a fellow of the ASQ.
Denise’s recent books include The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition (published by Paton Professional) and ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, Third Edition (published by ASQ Quality Press).