A method exists for quality professionals who would like to obtain the benefits of a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) system, but do not have the time or resources to dedicate to deployment of the full initiative. This is particularly true for those working in companies involved in agile product development where there must be a minimum of administration and all of the work must be performed by those actually responsible for the design and implementation, rather than a layer of quality assurance specialists.
“Picking up the slack” is a term often used in team management to describe the practice where the productive members compensate for the shortcomings of peers. This provides a short-term improvement, but may lead to long-term problems. As an alternative, rather than concealing the shortcomings and missing opportunities for improvement, the approach outlined here embraces such opportunities. In this concept, SLACK is an acronym for summary, lessons learned, actions, commitments and knowledge base.
Summary – After an event or process, it is important to capture relevant information. A summary should be recorded within 48 hours of the event so that key details are not forgotten. Unlike a formal CAPA system, this summary need not follow any structured format, but can be flexible to suit the needs and priorities of the organization. This step is critical as it is important to avoid creating a clutter of trivial details that may obscure the vital facts.
Lessons Learned – From the summary, the team can identify lessons learned. The lessons learned will be those items most relevant to the people directly affected. In contrast, a CAPA system uses people that are separate from the process to allocate and determine the priorities of the situation. Also, while issues from a CAPA system are generally perceived as negative shortcomings, the lessons learned can be either negative or positive, allowing the team to not only fix its problems but rapidly adopt successful innovations and process improvements as permanent practices.
Actions and Commitments – Each lesson learned should generate an action. As a result of a lesson learned, something must be done. This bias for action over analysis is consistent with agile, and ensures that there is always progress. However, in order to deliver the desired action, commitments are necessary. By assigning the action to an individual and setting a specific deadline, the action and commitment are powerful change drivers.
Knowledge Base – There is the risk to any team that the departure of key members will mean a reduction in collective knowledge. To mitigate that risk, the final step is to apply the improvement into the knowledge base. While a conventional CAPA system mandates the specific method and approach, this method applies flexibility and common sense. In an unstructured environment, standard procedures are infrequently updated or referenced, and make a poor repository for current knowledge. Different prompts or reminders (e.g., content of “readme” files in the directory, comments within software applications, updates to intranet pages) that apply technology can be used to communicate and internalize the knowledge so that it remains within the team, no matter who stays or goes.
SLACK is a linear model that can be formatted into a simple table or matrix. The table below shows an example of this application.
|Example of Simple SLACK Matrix|
|The product demonstration revealed software deficiencies.||Demo software should be tested prior to demonstrations.||Programmers and testers must test software prior to demo, and indicate usable release.||Testers must create demo test plan within 14 days.||Demo test plan to be added to test library.|
|The customer was unimpressed and did not purchase.||Customer expectations should be known before presentations.||Product manager should perform needs analysis as requirements for demo.||Product manager should create a needs analysis prior to next trade show.||Needs analysis for demo to be added to sales binder.|
An additional benefit of this approach – besides the logical workflow and simplicity – is the ability to monitor progress continually. Successive processes that have applied the correction, or implemented the innovation, can be tracked and confirmed (or refuted as the case may be) to obtain a longer-term benefit. As new lessons are learned, the criticality of those lessons can be inserted into the existing SLACK matrix.
This method is consistent with nimble project management approaches such as agile. It is simple enough to be applied by anyone on the team without the intervention or facilitation by a dedicated quality practitioner. It also provides coverage of this important area that is necessary for continual improvement. Next time a project or process has shortcomings, remember, there is a method for picking up the SLACK.