For our partner industries, quality management has become crucial to ensure products and processes meet customer requirements and regulatory standards. Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA) and non-conformances are two essential concepts for quality management. They are often used interchangeably, but actually have some distinct differences. In this article, we explore the key differences between CAPA and non-conformances, their scope, documentation requirements, and severity. A good understanding of the differences between these concepts can give organizations a better opportunity to implement effective quality management practices, preventing issues and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Concepts, Defined


Non-conformance is a term used to describe any instance where a product or process does not meet specified requirements or standards. It indicates that something has gone wrong or deviated from the expected outcome. Non-conformances can occur in any phase of the product lifecycle, from design to production and distribution.

When a non-conformance is identified, it must be addressed to prevent its recurrence. This may involve reworking the product, taking corrective action to fix the issue, or stopping production altogether. In some cases, a non-conformance can be considered acceptable if it does not affect the product’s safety, quality, or functionality.

Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA):

On the other hand, CAPA is a more proactive approach to quality management. Corrective and Preventive Actions involve identifying the root cause of a problem and implementing measures to prevent it from happening again. It is a systematic and structured process that can includes things such as:

  • We are identifying and documenting the problem or non-conformance.
  • We are investigating the root cause of the problem.
  • We are developing and implementing corrective actions to address the immediate issue.
  • We are developing and implementing preventive actions to prevent recurrence of the issue.

This process of continuous improvement aims to identify and eliminate the underlying causes of problems, rather than just addressing the symptoms. It is a critical component of many quality management systems, such as the QMS principles defined by ISO 9001, ensuring that products and processes meet customer requirements and comply with regulatory standards.

According to a report by the American Society for Quality, organizations that use CAPA report higher levels of customer satisfaction, with 84% of respondents reporting that their CAPA processes led to improved customer satisfaction.

Key Differences Between CAPA and Non-Conformances:

Reactive vs. Proactive Approach:

Non-conformances are reactive in nature and focus on fixing a problem that has already occurred. CAPA, on the other hand, is a proactive approach that aims to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.


Non-conformances are usually specific to a particular product or process, while CAPA has a broader scope that encompasses the entire quality management system.


Non-conformances are usually documented in a non-conformance report, while CAPA requires more extensive documentation, including investigation reports, corrective action plans, and preventive action plans.


Non-conformances may be minor or significant, depending on their impact on the product or process. CAPA, however, is typically reserved for critical issues that have the potential to cause substantial harm or result in a significant recall.

Companies should not use non-conformances instead of CAPA, as both concepts serve different purposes in quality management. Non-conformances are reactive and focus on fixing a problem that has already occurred, while CAPA takes a proactive approach and aims to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Using only non-conformances would mean that an organization is only addressing the immediate issues as they arise, without taking steps to prevent similar problems from happening in the future. This could result in more cases and increased costs for reworking, fixing, or recalling products.

CAPA, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive approach that addresses immediate issues and aims to prevent their recurrence through root cause analysis and implementation of preventive measures. Implementing CAPA can help organizations improve their quality management system and reduce the risk of future non-conformances, leading to improved customer satisfaction and lower costs.

Really, companies should use both non-conformances and CAPA in their quality management system to ensure that they’re addressing both immediate and long-term issues and continuously improving their processes.

Use Cases: Failure to Implement Effective CAPA Processes

Here are a few examples of companies that faced quality management issues when they did not use CAPA and relied only on non-conformances:

Johnson & Johnson:

In 2010, Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, DePuy Orthopedics, recalled two hip implant models due to high failure rates. The company had only used non-conformance reports to address the issue but failed to implement CAPA processes to identify and address the root causes of the problem. As a result, the issue persisted for several years and led to costly lawsuits and damage to the company’s reputation.


In 2015, Volkswagen was found to have cheated on emissions tests by installing software in its diesel engines that could detect when the car was being tested and reduce emissions accordingly. The company initially used non-conformance reports to address the issue but failed to implement effective CAPA processes to prevent the issue from recurring. As a result, the company faced significant financial losses, damage to its reputation, and legal challenges.


In 2018, Boeing’s 737 Max airplane was involved in two deadly crashes that were linked to a software issue. The company had initially used non-conformance reports to address the issue but failed to implement effective CAPA processes to identify and address the problem’s root causes. As a result, the issue persisted, leading to significant financial losses, damage to the company’s reputation, and regulatory scrutiny

These use cases highlight the importance of implementing effective CAPA processes in quality management to prevent recurring issues and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

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Implementing a Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) System with Non-Conformances

To implement an effective CAPA system and address non-conformances, the first step is analyzing your current quality management system to identify areas for improvement.

  • Create a comprehensive CAPA plan outlining steps for corrective action and preventing future non-conformances.
  • Train employees on the CAPA system and their role in reporting non-conformances, establish a process for tracking and monitoring CAPA activities, and encourage a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Regularly communicate progress to stakeholders and conduct audits to ensure quality standards and regulations compliance.
  • Use performance metrics to identify trends and areas for improvement and make informed decisions about future process enhancements.

Following these steps, you can improve your quality management system and ensure your organization operates more efficiently and effectively.

Several key stakeholders would be impacted by the implementation of a CAPA system and the management of non-conformances. These include:

  • Customers: Customers may be impacted by non-conformance in the products or services they receive. A robust CAPA system can identify and resolve any issues quickly, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Employees: Employees involved in the production or delivery of products or services may be impacted by non-conformance. A well-implemented CAPA system can help prevent these issues and improve overall quality, reducing the workload and stress on employees.
  • Management: Management teams oversee the quality of products and services and ensure compliance with regulations and standards. Effective CAPA management can ensure these responsibilities are met and provide valuable data for making informed decisions.
  • Regulators: Regulatory bodies may be interested in the CAPA system and non-conformance management processes to ensure industry standards and regulations compliance.
  • Shareholders: Shareholders may be impacted by non-conformance if they result in financial losses or damage to the company’s reputation. An effective CAPA system can help to prevent these issues and maintain the company’s financial health and reputation.


Quality management is critical to ensuring customer satisfaction and compliance with regulatory standards. Non-conformances and CAPA are essential concepts in quality management with distinct differences in approach, scope, documentation, and severity.

While non-conformances focus on addressing immediate issues, CAPA takes a proactive approach to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Companies that rely solely on non-conformances without implementing effective CAPA processes risk facing significant financial losses, damage to reputation, and legal challenges.

In the future, organizations must use non-conformances and CAPA in their quality management systems to address immediate and long-term issues continuously and improve their processes. When you understand the differences, your organization can implement effective quality management practices that prevent problems and ensure customer satisfaction.