Using Corrective Action in Project Management for Continuous Improvement

Projects rarely go 100% according to plan, and I’m sure that you must have faced unexpected deviations when managing projects. Corrective actions are crucial when these variances arise to get your project back on track.

By identifying deviations early and determining their root causes, you can establish corrective action plans to address issues proactively.

In this article, we’ll cover the concept of corrective action in project management and its importance to continuous improvement, how to monitor progress and evaluate effectiveness, and tips for proper documentation.

With the right corrective action processes in place, you can minimize the impacts of deviations, meet your project objectives, and enhance outcomes on future projects.

What is Corrective Action in a Project?

Corrective action in project management refers to the steps taken to get a project back on track when deviations or variances from the plan occur.

It is a process to identify and address issues that are causing the project to diverge from its intended objectives.

Corrective actions enable you to analyze these deviations, determine their root causes, and develop solutions to resolve them.

The solutions usually involve modifying your project management plan, processes, or activities to realign performance with the original scope, schedule, budget, or quality expectations.

Corrective actions help you minimize the impacts of unplanned events and problems. By taking corrective action, you can keep your project on track for successful delivery even when the unexpected arises.

Importance of Implementing Corrective Action in Project Management

Corrective action is a critical competency for project managers seeking to deliver projects on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

Corrective action in project management helps to:

Minimize the Impact of Deviations

Taking corrective action allows you to minimize the negative effects of any deviations in your project keeping it on track. By addressing issues early, you prevent small problems from turning into major failures.

Increase Success Rate

Projects with effective corrective action processes have much higher success rates. The ability to identify and resolve problems promptly boosts your chances of meeting project objectives and achieving desired outcomes.

Enable Continuous Improvement

Every corrective action taken provides a learning opportunity and enables continuous improvement. By analyzing root causes and reflecting on the solutions, you gain insights to improve processes for future projects.

Reassure Stakeholders

Demonstrating that your team can handle unexpected challenges reassures stakeholders and shows you have the expertise and systems to address issues and deliver successful projects despite obstacles.

Types of Corrective Action in Project Management

There are a few common types of corrective actions taken in project management and the specific type taken depends on the unique issues of your project. These include:

1. Schedule Correction

When your project falls behind schedule, you may need to implement schedule corrections to get timelines back on track.

This could involve adding resources to complete tasks faster, revising dependencies to allow more parallel work, or negotiating later deadlines.

2. Budget Correction

If your project exceeds the planned budget, budget corrections help rein in costs.

This may include cutting unnecessary expenses, finding cheaper alternatives, or securing more funding.

3. Scope Change

Sometimes the project scope needs to be adjusted to resolve issues. This scope change involves altering project deliverables or objectives to match available resources and capabilities.

4. Quality Improvement

When quality issues arise, actions to improve and correct deficiencies may be needed which can involve reworking deliverables, improving processes, or providing additional training.

5. Resource Correction

Resource issues like lack of staff or skills gaps often require corrective action. Reallocating team members, hiring specialists, outsourcing work, and increasing training are potential solutions.

Identifying the Need for Corrective Action

The first step in the corrective action process is identifying situations that require intervention. By vigilantly overseeing your project, you can detect problems early and enact corrective action before they spiral into crises.

This proactive approach gives your interventions the highest chance of getting your project to deliver successful outcomes.

There are a few key ways to recognize when corrective actions are needed:

Monitoring Progress

By regularly monitoring your project, you can quickly identify any deviations from the plan.

Compare scheduled versus actual progress, as well as budgeted costs versus actual spending. Significant discrepancies indicate the need for corrective action.

Performance Reports

Analyze performance reports to spot negative trends. Metrics showing missed deadlines, reduced quality, or low productivity require investigation and action.

Process Analysis

Look for problems in your project management processes. Issues with schedule development, risk management, or team collaboration may surface the need for process improvements.

Risk Monitoring

Closely track identified risks and monitor for new ones. The occurrence of risks or visibility of emerging risks means preventative or corrective action is necessary.

Stakeholder Feedback

Listen to any concerns raised by stakeholders about the project. Their feedback often highlights areas needing improvement.

Examples of Corrective Action in Project Management

Here are some real-world examples of corrective actions that project managers can take:

Schedule Slippage

Your project is falling behind schedule due to unexpected delays. Potential corrective actions include:

  • Fast-track upcoming activities by bringing in additional resources. This allows tasks to be worked on in parallel to catch up.
  • Seek authorization for a revised timeline and rebaseline the schedule. Resetting the schedule may be necessary to achieve a realistic plan.
  • Review the critical path and crashing activities to expedite work. Reduce task durations through overtime, outsourcing, etc.

Budget Overrun

The project is forecasted to exceed the authorized budget midpoint through the project. Possible corrective actions include:

  • Switch vendors or source materials from more cost-effective suppliers.
  • Substitute custom components with cheaper standard alternatives that still meet requirements.
  • Negotiate additional funding by demonstrating the need to stakeholders.

Scope Creep

The client continues adding deliverables without adjusting the schedule/resources. Possible corrective actions include:

  • Clearly communicate the impact of additional requests and get formal sign-off on scope changes.
  • Request a written description of new requirements and estimated effort.
  • Establish more defined change control processes to manage new requests.

There are endless examples of corrective actions, but the key is selecting interventions tailored to your unique project challenges. These examples demonstrate how targeted actions can bring projects back into alignment.

What is a Corrective Action Plan?

A corrective action plan outlines the specific steps that will be taken to address issues and get a project back on track after identifying the need for corrective action.

It documents the planned response and serves as a guide for executing and monitoring the corrective actions.

An effective corrective action plan should clearly define:

  • The problems or nonconformities triggering the need for action
  • Owners responsible for implementing each action
  • The proposed solutions and tasks to resolve the issues
  • Deadlines for taking corrective steps
  • Metrics for tracking progress and success
  • Escalation procedures if the plan does not achieve the desired results

The corrective action plan transforms the proposed interventions into tangible activities with assigned ownership, deadlines, and measurable outcomes.

Corrective Action Plan Process

You can systematically develop and execute corrective action plans that rectify issues and successfully get projects back on track by following these key steps:

1. Identify Issues

Document the specific problems, nonconformities, or issues triggering the need for corrective action. Be detailed in describing the gaps between desired and actual performance.

2. Perform Root Cause Analysis

Conduct root cause analysis to determine the underlying source of the issues. Ask why until you get to the core of what caused the problem.

3. Define Goals

Establish measurable goals for the outcome of the corrective actions. These goals should be tied to resolving the identified root causes.

4. Determine Corrective Actions

Decide on the specific corrective actions required to achieve the goals. Consider resources needed, costs, risks, and feasibility.

5. Assign Ownership

Designate ownership for each action, whether it’s a team or individual responsible for execution and delivery.

6. Establish Timeline

Develop a realistic timeline for implementing the corrective actions with key milestones and deadlines.

7. Monitor and Report Progress

Track progress on each action and report status regularly, taking corrective measures if actions fall behind.

8. Validate Resolution

Once complete, validate that the corrective actions have resolved the core issues and goals are met.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Corrective Actions

Once corrective actions are implemented, it’s critical to evaluate their effectiveness. This evaluation helps to:

Determine if Goals are Achieved

Review metrics to confirm the corrective actions have resolved the core issues and achieved the goals outlined in the plan. If not, additional action may be required.

Identify Process Improvements

Analyze the successes and failures to identify improvements for future corrective action processes. Look for inefficiencies, delays, and execution issues.

Promote Continuous Improvement

Treat each corrective action as a learning experience. Reflect on what worked well and where there are opportunities to enhance performance next time.

Quantify Lessons Learned

Document lessons learned and share quantifiable results and metrics that demonstrate the impact of the corrective actions.

Gain Stakeholder Acceptance

Present a summary of the evaluation to stakeholders. Quantifying the success and value gained builds confidence in your team’s ability to steer the project back on track.

Motivate Team Morale

Highlighting achievements made through corrective actions motivates teams by demonstrating their perseverance and problem-solving skills.

Documenting Corrective Action Processes

Proper documentation is essential for corrective action processes. Be sure to document:

Corrective Action Plans

Fully document each corrective action plan including the issue, goals, planned actions, owners, timelines, and results.

Tracking Logs

Maintain detailed logs of the execution of each corrective action – status updates, progress metrics, pending needs, etc.

Meeting Notes

Record minutes and notes from all meetings focused on developing and managing corrective actions.

Evaluation Outcomes

Capture evaluation findings, lessons learned, and suggestions for improvement after completing corrective actions.

Final Results

Document final results achieved through the corrective actions and quantitative metrics demonstrating impact.

Process Improvements

Note any process changes or improvements identified based on the evaluation that could optimize future corrective action processes.

Corrective Action vs Preventive Action vs Defect Repair

There are subtle differences between corrective actions, preventive actions, and defect repair:

Corrective Action

A corrective action addresses a problem that has already occurred. It seeks to improve the current project situation.

  • Responds to existing nonconformity
  • Aims to meet original requirements

Example: Accelerating tasks to recover lost time

Preventive Action

Preventive action prevents potential problems before they happen. It proactively reduces future risks.

  • Anticipates potential nonconformity
  • Aims to avoid deviating from requirements

Example: Training team on new process to avoid errors

Defect Repair

Defect repair fixes an identified defect or nonconformity in a product or deliverable.

  • Responds to an identified defect in a deliverable
  • Aims to modify the deliverable to meet requirements

Example: Fixing software bugs

While distinct, these concepts are interrelated in project management:

  • Defect repair directly fixes defective deliverables.
  • Corrective actions resolve the processes that allowed the defects.
  • Preventive actions improve processes to prevent future defects.

For example, a quality review identifies defects in a product. The project team performs defect repair by fixing product errors. They implement corrective actions to improve quality control and testing processes.

Preventive training helps ensure requirements are understood to avoid similar defects moving forward.

To achieve robust project management, all three should be leveraged collaboratively as part of an integrated quality management strategy. Together they help deliver defect-free products while enabling continuous process improvement.

Corrective Action PMP Exam Tips

Corrective actions are integral to maintaining project alignment with its objectives as outlined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

Within the Monitoring and Controlling process group, corrective actions are responses formulated and implemented to address any deviations from the project management plan or project performance measurements.

These actions are typically identified through processes such as “Control Scope,” “Control Schedule,” “Control Costs,” and “Control Quality.”

For instance, during the “Control Schedule” process, project performance is measured to determine if there are any variances from the timeline. If such discrepancies are detected, a corrective action is created to bring the project back on track.

Project managers must understand that corrective actions are not ad hoc responses but should be based on a careful analysis of project data and performance trends.

Once identified, these actions must be documented, approved, and communicated to relevant stakeholders as part of the “Integrated Change Control” process to ensure that any changes to the project management plan are managed in a controlled manner.

By effectively implementing corrective actions, project managers can ensure that the project remains aligned with its goals, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful project delivery.

Here are some tips for answering PMP exam questions on corrective action:

  • Note that corrective action addresses existing issues while preventive action stops potential issues.
  • Understand the processes for developing and implementing corrective action plans.
  • Recognize examples like schedule acceleration, scope reduction, vendor change, etc.
  • Know key inputs like performance reports, change requests, quality metrics, etc.
  • Be familiar with tools like root cause analysis and earned value management.
  • Recall that the impacts and outcomes of corrective actions should be documented.
  • Review processes for evaluating effectiveness and promoting continuous improvement.
  • Don’t confuse corrective action with defect repair, which fixes product defects rather than project processes.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you successfully answer situational and knowledge-based questions about corrective action on the PMP exam.


As highlighted in this article, projects can veer off track despite careful planning. As a project manager, acting decisively with corrective actions enables you to get your project back on course when the unexpected arises.

By monitoring for deviations, analyzing root causes, and implementing targeted plans, you can minimize disruption and keep stakeholders confident.

Mature corrective action processes incorporate continuous improvement through rigorous documentation, evaluation of outcomes, and integration of lessons learned.

With diligence and proactive course corrections, your project success rates will improve over time. Robust corrective action capabilities are the hallmark of adaptable project managers ready for any challenge.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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