All you need to solve systematic issues in a calm, thoughtful manner. Posted on the Coda.io blog
As a project manager, sometimes you discover a major unanticipated issue or undesirable situations that can spell disaster for your project if left uncorrected.
In these situations, it's tempting to fall into reactive, fire-fighting mode. But it would help if you had a cool, calm head to diagnose the issue, brainstorm solutions while delegating work clearly, and measure the effectiveness of your solution.
Introducing the corrective action plan to help you correct systematic problems in real time. This unassuming tool for project managers enables you to become a problem-solving wiz. With this, you will reduce the risks of future issues and implement a plan to address underlying problems.
Ready? Let's get into it.
What is a corrective action plan template?
A corrective action plan (CAP) is a document created by a project manager or an organization to solve systematic nonconformity issues and undesirable situations within a project or department.
- It is specific: The plan describes how a team will change a particular behavior, task, process, or product to meet company goals and address the problem.
- It is systematic: A corrective action plan investigates the issue with a step-by-step process from all angles. It is not afraid to ask deep questions and be thorough in its investigation.
- It is action-oriented: As the name suggests, a corrective action plan puts a detailed plan of action to improve processes and solve the documented issue. Project managers use this plan to identify measurement points to measure the effectiveness of the proposed method.
Four applications of a corrective action plan
- Audit and accounting: If there are discrepancies in inventory figures or financial statements, a corrective action plan investigates the problem and communicates corrective action.
- IT security: Network failures or major customer-facing events like personal data breaches can be catastrophic. A corrective action plan identifies poor practices and assigns responsibility and steps to prevent further issues.
- Incident reporting: If there's an accident or failure at a production plant, healthcare, or quality management issues, use corrective action plans to perform a root cause analysis and decide what to do next.
- Employee performance tracking: HR departments and managers also use corrective action plans to manage underperforming or poor-performing staff to define a clear way forward.
When do you need a corrective action plan?
You don't need a corrective action plan for every single error. Some mistakes are minor and easily corrected or one-off errors.
Consider using a corrective action plan if:
- Your problem is systematic: These issues will not naturally correct without external intervention. For example, you perform poorly on an external audit or see similar topics around quality control or complaints popping up on unrelated cases.
- There will be significant issues if the problem is left unresolved: Issues like health and safety management, personal data breaches, or network security risks threatening the security of a software company. These significant issues should be resolved as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
- When you need a thoughtful, systematic solution to a recurring problem: A corrective action plan promotes acute problem solving where you investigate underlying causes, formulate a plan, and then document and implement the plan. It ensures you consider any associated risks, assign responsibilities to the right people, and define a time to test the effectiveness of your proposed solution.
Three benefits of a corrective action plan
1. A step-by-step approach to problem-solving
Problems are bound to pop up in your career as a project manager, and this document helps you adopt calm, thoughtful problem-solving. No matter the issue, corrective action plans adopt a systematic, step-by-step method of problem-solving that's proven to work. These can form part of your go-to problem-solving methods or mental models.
2. Increased transparency to stakeholders, team members, and affected people
Having a detailed corrective action in place communicates to your stakeholders, clients, and affected departments that you've:
- Thoroughly investigated a problem from multiple angles and got to the heart of the problem.
- Identified specific next steps of action and provided a recommendation on the best way forward
- Thought about how to measure success. It's one thing to formulate a plan of action and another to analyze if that plan has been successful.
Having a plan always helps to show clear thinking and communicates calm competence. If you can demonstrate these competencies in stressful situations, you're setting yourself up for success.
3. Improved documentation for future projects
Like the exception report, the corrective action plan serves as a record of your actions to see if the proposed changes helped address the issue. It helps you explain your decisions at any given time to internal stakeholders and team members. The action plan also serves as a guidance document for similar future projects, so team members and the organization benefit from the documentation.
👉 Get started with this corrective action plan template. Copy this template
After you copy this free corrective action plan template, you can start using it with your teammates on various projects.
How to use Coda's sample corrective action plan template to create an effective corrective action plan
An effective corrective action plan includes:
- A clearly defined understanding of the problem
- Identified actions and solutions
- A specific recommendation for corrective action
- Assigned roles to who is responsible for implementing the plan
- A clearly defined time and location for implementation
- A method to monitor progress and metrics to assess the effectiveness of the solution
- Documentation of everything discussed in your project plan
Let's go through how to create each part.
Step 1: Define the problem
Every corrective action plan starts with defining an apparent problem to address. Ask yourself two questions to help you:
- What happened? For example, a data breach exposed our customer's passwords to the public.
- Who is responsible? Identify which teams are responsible for addressing the issue. For example, This is an issue related to our system security and data privacy teams.
When in doubt, use inquiry methods like the 5 Why's to help you discover the underlying causes of a problem. Include a statement of the desired situation you want to achieve. We’ve also got a step-by-step guide to help you clearly and systematically define problems.
Step 2: Identify specific actions and methods to take to move forward
Once you know where you want to go, list what you need to do to reach your desired state. Describe your action steps here. You want to break it down into clear, discrete steps so people know what to do next. Include additional details where needed.
Need help? Create an effective project execution plan using our template to track high-level project status and individual tasks and activities.
For example, if you're addressing an increase in customer complaints since the previous quarter, your action steps could include the following:
- Gathering feedback from customer service staff on specific challenges they face when handling customer complaints
- Revising complaint management policies
- Conducting monthly in-house training sessions for all customer service staff on phone and live chat etiquette to train them on managing complaints and empowering them to solve problems
- Investigating the source of the complaints if there are other systematic issues present
Tip: Use the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timebound) for additional clarity to frame your action steps. The added clarity helps you monitor progress on your action steps and goals.
Step 3: Justify proposed corrective actions
Explain why you're taking this course of action.
For example, the plan of action outlined in Step 2 will help our customer service team provide more effective support to complaining customers and improve how we manage complaints. This process will ensure our customer service feels supported.
At the same time, once we have enough data from frontline staff, we need to investigate why customers are complaining to see if other systematic issues are present (product quality issues at manufacturing, for instance). You may also want to consider the risks involved with your plan and define a risk management plan.
We’ve got a risk management tool to help you.
Step 4: Assign roles
Who is responsible for executing the steps in the corrective action form?
Define clear roles of responsibility and organize your team to solve problems effectively. Outline the team responsible and the person responsible for follow-up action.
If you need help, our Product Operating Rhythm template is at hand to help you organize your team!
Step 5: Define time & location.
Here, you include everything to do with when and where to take action on your corrective action plan.
Going back to our customer complaint example as an illustration:
- Gathering feedback from customer service staff: Managers will meet with their reports for 30 minutes during their 1-1 sessions every two weeks on Monday to ask them about challenging situations
- Conducting monthly in-house training sessions for all customer service staff: This will be held over Zoom every last Thursday of the month for an hour and led by the head of customer service or an external trainer.
Finally, set a deadline for completing the steps for corrective action. You may also want to clearly outline the consequences of not meeting the deadline (customer complaints will continue rising. Which could affect our bottom line and brand perception).
Step 6: Monitor progress
If you haven't already, frame your action steps defined in the previous steps using the SMART framework.
Once you have these, actively monitor progress on your action steps at regular intervals. Define your review frequency (once a week or month). You want to look at metrics to assess if your plan is effective.
At each review session, you could:
- See which high-priority items are overdue
- Identify and clear blockers
- Assess if action steps need more time to complete
7. Documentation of everything discussed
Document everything you've discussed, including stakeholders involved, deadlines, and decisions made. Make sure you have a clear record for future reference. Consider using a pre-made corrective action report template for consistency and to make creating effective corrective action plans easier.
To quickly get started with Coda’s corrective action plan template:
Step 1: Add open issues
On the Open Issues page, you can start adding issues as they come up in the day-to-day operations of your business. It’s important to fill out as many details as possible regarding the issue like the Date Identified and the Method of Identification. You can customize these dropdowns on the Lists page.
Step 2: Add correction actions for each issue
As your team meets to discuss how to take corrective actions on the issues identified in step 1, select the issue on the Open Issues page and click the Add action for this issue button. You can add multiple corrective actions for each issue so that the issue does not become a systemic issue in the future. As discussed above, it’s important to identify an owner for each corrective action so that your team knows the issue will be fixed.
Step 3: See the timeline and archive of issues
When creating a list of corrective actions, you can also set the Date for Action for action. If you are the project manager or IT team monitoring the corrective actions, you can see a timeline view of all actions on the Timeline page. Each action defaults to 14 days, but you can edit this in the Corrective Actions table (unhide the End Date column). Finally, as issues are resolved and archived, you can see these issues in the Archived Issues page.
Corrective action plan template FAQs
How is a corrective action plan different from a preventive action plan?
Corrective and preventive actions work hand in hand to address organizational or project-based problems. Corrective action plans fix an existing problem or non-compliance to a process. They're often considered the more 'reactive' method to address an issue. In comparison, a preventive action plan takes a more proactive approach to prevent a problem. It aims to prevent issues from happening in the first place by looking at other situations where problems could occur and plugging any potential gaps.
Who is responsible for developing corrective action plans?
Usually, the person in charge of the problem takes the lead in developing a corrective action plan. For example, if it's a systematic issue concerning a project, the project manager in charge creates and edits the plan. If it's a health and safety issue, the safety manager develops the strategy and coordinates the people responsible for addressing it.
How does a corrective action plan get approved?
Depending on the action plan's scope and the identified issues, approval usually falls to senior internal stakeholders and team leads. Depending on the subject, external review boards and organizations like auditors and safety compliance authorities may also be involved.