What is the difference between a non-conformance and a corrective action?

Discerning Non-Conformance and Corrective Action in Quality Management

Navigating through the realms of quality management, you’ll frequently encounter terms like “Non-Conformance” and “Corrective Action.” Although interconnected, these terms pertain to different aspects of quality management and are crucial in maintaining the integrity and efficacy of a Quality Management System (QMS).


Non-conformance is an incident or discrepancy where a process, product, or service fails to meet defined standards or specifications. This misalignment could pertain to internal policies, customer requirements, or regulatory guidelines. Non-conformances could manifest in various forms, such as defects in products, deviations from planned processes, or non-adherence to policies.

Characteristics of Non-Conformance:

  • Misalignment with defined criteria or specifications.
  • Detected through inspections, audits, or process monitoring.
  • Requires immediate containment actions to mitigate impacts.

Corrective Action:

On the other hand, corrective action is a structured process undertaken to eliminate the root causes of an identified non-conformance or other undesirable situations. The essence of corrective action lies in preventing the recurrence of the non-conformance by addressing the fundamental cause, rather than merely rectifying the apparent symptoms.

Characteristics of Corrective Action:

  • A systematic approach to identify and eliminate root causes.
  • Undertaken after the identification of non-conformance.
  • Aims at preventing recurrence by modifying processes, practices, or systems.

In the interplay of non-conformance and corrective action, the former acts as a trigger, signaling an anomaly or deviation that warrants attention. Non-conformances, once identified, should be documented and evaluated to determine their impact and the need for containment and correction.

Subsequently, corrective action steps in, driven by a methodical analysis to unearth the root cause of the non-conformance. Corrective actions might involve revising procedures, enhancing training, modifying designs, or implementing new checks and balances. By addressing the underlying cause, corrective action fortifies the QMS against the recurrence of the specific non-conformance.

In essence, non-conformance focuses on identification and containment, while corrective action is geared towards a comprehensive resolution and prevention. The synergy of managing non-conformances and implementing corrective actions shapes a proactive quality management approach, bolstering organizational capabilities to deliver consistent, high-quality products and services.