So, you think you’ve got it all figured it out, and then, BAM! Somebody else comes with a new acronym to throw you off your game. Well, don’t give up so soon. Quality is not that hard, or at least not as hard as some people expect it to be. It all boils down to continual improvement and trying to be more efficient and deliver better products and services.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way somebody thought acronyms would help. Acronyms are confusing, but you can make them work for you. The trick is just to decide along with your company which acronyms you really want to use.
If you have been in Quality and have seen as many industries as I have, you have probably seen these acronyms, but you may or may not know what they stand for. What follows is a brief summary of each of the acronyms commonly used in Quality, as well as an explanation of the one, single acronym that can do away with all of your Quality confusion.
CAR: Corrective Action Request
CAR stands for Corrective Action Request, and it means the activity of originating a Corrective Action. In the ISO arena, CAR is by far one of the most frequently used terms for Corrective Action. The essence of CAR is to conduct an investigation on a problem which already happened and needs root cause analysis and resolution to prevent recurrence. Although the acronym translates to Corrective Action Request, when companies use this acronym, they actually use it for their entire Corrective Action lifecycle rather than just the request portion.
In my view, this is not an appropriate name for a Corrective Action, because the name implies it is only the initial stage of the Corrective Action process. What happens after the Corrective Action has been Requested and is now on Root Cause mode? Should it be CARC, as in, Corrective Action Root Cause? Or what if the Corrective Action is in the Review of Effectiveness stage, should it be CARE? Get the point?
PAR: Preventive Action Request
PAR, or Preventive Action Request, is very similar to CAR. PAR is also one of the most widely used terms for Preventive Actions by companies that are ISO certified. We use PARs to conduct an investigation to find the root cause(s) of a potential problem so that this possible problem does not come to pass. As with CAR, PAR refers to all steps of Preventive Action, not just the Request portion as the name might imply. Again, when the Preventive Action moves to Root Cause Investigation, we don’t switch the name to PARC but wrongly continue to call it PAR until closure. Therefore, in my view, PAR is not good nomenclature for Preventive Actions.
NCR: Non-Conformance Report
NCR seems, to me, one of the most widely misunderstood acronyms. Most people tend to confuse NCR with a Corrective Action or, worse yet, with an Audit Nonconformity. First of all, a Nonconformance is an instance when a product does not meet product specifications — whether the nonconformity is major or minor – and therefore does not conform to requirements (hence the term Nonconformance). Nonconformance Reports, or NCRs, log and track the occurrence of Nonconformances either in paperwork or in electronic form.
Companies track Nonconformances using NCRs in order to keep a log of defects categories, defect types, frequency, counts, etc. This will ultimately help them in creating Pareto charts or other trend diagrams to help eliminate such product “Nonconformities”. Although a severe product Nonconformance could generate a Corrective Action, NCRs are primarily a tracking mechanism to account for products that did not meet requirements and to indicate what was done with them (were they scrapped, reworked, returned to vendor, used as is, etc.?) in order to make informed productivity and efficiency decisions.
Much of the confusion in the case of NCRs stems from their seeming relation to both CARs and PARs. The key thing to remember is that not all product nonconformities may require Root Cause investigation while Corrective and Preventive Actions always require this step. Therefore an NCR is not a CAR or PAR.
In the case of a Preventive Action, there is no Nonconformance present. After all, a Preventive Action points to a possibility that something could go wrong in the future. Keeping such distinctions in mind will help you to use the term NCR, as well as CAR and PAR, correctly.
SCAR: Supplier Corrective Action Request
I know when you first hear this, you think of a scar in your face, arm or body part. SCAR was derived from the need to issue suppliers a Corrective Action to a problem that originated based on their product or service. So, as a way to differentiate it from a regular internal corrective action or CAR, somebody out there decided to call it a SCAR. Basically, a SCAR is a formal request to a supplier that they correct a problem and explain to you exactly how they will do so. SCAR is mostly used in organizations where there is a strong customer-supplier relationship and where both customers and suppliers are high in the Quality food chain (e.g., electronics companies, semiconductors, telecom, etc.).
CAPA: Corrective Action Preventive Action
This term is mostly used by quality software companies who want to say that they have a system that can cover Corrective and Preventive Actions. The downside of the acronym CAPA is that it may create confusion, due to its similarity to CAR and PAR. If employees want to log a CAR or a PAR, should they call it CAR, PAR or CAPA? As you can see, it can actually scare people and prevent them from even attempting to log an opportunity for improvement.
CPAR: Corrective Preventive Action Request
CPAR is a combination of Corrective and Preventive Action with the additional Request at the end. I would personally caution against using this term. As you may imagine, I do not like this term either because it can create confusion not only by mixing corrective and preventive action on the same acronym but also by adding the dreaded Request at the end. So for all that my advice is worth, please do not use this one if at all possible.
NCN: Non Conformity Note
NCN stands for Nonconformity Note, and it was originated by Certification Bodies or Registrars who issue Nonconformity notes as part of their audit report. NCNs are often confused with NCRs, however as stated before NCR is used to track product nonconformities while NCN is used to track audit non conformities. If you choose to use the term, be careful to be consistent and avoid mixing it up with NCRs.
Finally, the Solution to All Acronym Doubts: Continual Improvement Program
So with all those acronyms above being wrongly used or tergiversated, what is a good ISO pupil to do? Worry no more! There is one term I wholeheartedly endorse because it captures the essence of the ISO standard Continual Improvement principle and Corrective and Preventive Action requirements. It is nice, it is short, it is simple, and it is unambiguous. It is called CIP. CIP stands for – you guessed it – Continual Improvement Program. Forget about trying to find an acronym that can represent the source of the problem or the stages of resolution. CIP encompasses the system to handle all opportunities for improvement.
By using the term CIP, you can eliminate stigma from the whole process. All you have to do is tell your employees, “If you have a systemic issue, be it large or small, log it in the CIP. If you have an audit Nonconformity, log it in the CIP. If you have a customer complaint, log it in the CIP. If you want to improve something, log it in the CIP”. Of course, your CIP application (such as Web QMS) or form, will show whether the CIP was generated from a customer, a supplier, an audit, internally, etc. Regardless of the nature or source of the issue, CIPs allow you to use a simple acronym or system that everyone feels comfortable using and talking about. In my entire career as an advocate for Continual Improvement, I have never seen employees embracing a term more eagerly than the CIP concept.
So, go write a CIP and see how this simple term can change your company’s entire outlook on continual improvement. If you are in need of forms, please feel free to send us a request and we will be happy to send you various CIP forms (long ones, short ones, big ones, brown ones – joking). All of our CIP forms are modeled after our Web QMS’ CIP application, so you are bound to get the best continual improvement money can buy. Let us help you make the transition to CIP, and you won’t regret it.
This article was published by Quality Digest on 06/05/2012.