What is a non-conformity?
A non-conformity is a process or activity which doesn’t fulfil its intended purpose. This could be because there has been a failure to follow the procedures outlined in your Management System, or because the documented procedures are not fit for purpose. For example, multiple complaints about a particular area may highlight a recurring product or service issue that could point towards a non-conformity – which is why gathering customer feedback and maintaining a documented complaints procedure can be invaluable.
On their own, non-conformities can lead to a bad customer experience for an individual, but if left untreated, can also lead to a cascade of bad experiences for multiple customers. This is why it is important to not only identify these areas but address them in good time and adequately.
Non-conformities are not something that will crop up at specific times of year, so it is important that your teams are vigilant and always on the lookout.
How should businesses deal with non-conformity?
Although the exact process may change from business to business, there are three main components to dealing with a non-conformity:
Look for any indications that a process or action (or lack thereof) within the business is not performing as intended. Look for issues such as:
- Poor communication/miscommunication
- Inaccurate or non-existent documentation
- Training issues
- Motivational problems
- Lack of quality materials, tools or equipment
- Inappropriate work environment
A well trained team will know how a process is supposed to work and will therefore be able to spot a non-conformity arising from any failure. And if they are customer-focused, motivated and confident in their position, they may also spot other opportunities or potential non-conformities before they occur.
Make sure to write down all instances of non-conformity in a log or register, including details on how they occurred.
This is where you perform any corrective actions necessary, whether that is actions to take immediately, or a more far-reaching set of changes. Any immediate adjustments or solutions may only address the raised issue, so in order to address the non-conformity properly, you also need to identify the root cause in order to prevent a recurrence of the non-conformity or issues of a similar nature.
Update your non-conformity log/register with details on what action was taken and why. You will then need to update the log again with details of how effective your actions have been in addressing the non-conformity.
Built into most modern ISO management systems, there is a requirement for Management to review the log/register of non-conformities. This Management Review includes assessing the effectiveness of the corrective actions taken, as well as determining if enough has been done to prevent the non-conformity from recurring.
In addition, the review stage can highlight potential issues in unrelated areas by looking at the business and its interrelated processes as a whole.
This review may require changes to be made to the management system itself, or individual team processes, and by its nature counts toward one of the main aims of a management system: continual improvement.
What are the benefits of non-conformity management?
For Organisations with a Management System in place, identifying any non-conformities will serve several purposes:
- Ensuring adherence to procedure – asking your team to actively look for and identify when a non-conformity occurs shows that your team is aware of your processes and procedures and therefore will be more likely to adhere to them.
- Ensuring the effectiveness of the system – by observing processes and recognising non-conformities you can easily see areas where your procedures aren’t quite working as planned, giving you the chance to address this and improve the effectiveness of your Management System overall.
- Providing information for management reviews – the results of any raised non-conformities should be documented so they can be reviewed and analysed at management reviews, providing evidence for use in corrective action programmes and performance measurement.
- Identifying opportunities for improvement – recurring non-conformities are a sure sign of a problem, observing such trends helps a business to highlight key procedure or process changes that are required to improve performance and productivity.
- Driving continual improvement – by addressing your non-conformities you are driving improvement; from improving the process itself, to reviewing how that change affects other areas and possibly changing them too during a Management Review.