The term quality is used everywhere in the business world, from Ford’s famous 1980s ad campaign of “Quality is Job 1” to the Total Quality Management philosophy popular today. Despite this increase in attention to quality, two business processes that have long employed Quality in their function titles, Quality Assurance and Quality Control, are still the subject of much confusion and misconceptions. In this article we will look at the key role each plays in a successful business.
Simply put, Quality Assurance is the systematic business processes that are executed to ensure that the quality requirements specified for a service or product are met. The role of the Quality Assurance organization is NOT to inspect in process or completed services or products for defects or failures. Such inspections are the role of Quality Control which is covered below.
Quality Assurance is dedicated to ensuring the necessary procedures, processes, and controls are in place to produce results which comply with a standard. Audits of business records and interviews conducted by internal or external parties measure the success of the Quality Assurance program. Where these audits identify nonconformances to the standard, changes in training and procedures are made to return the process to compliance. Within the framework of Quality Assurance, establishing the standard is critical. Each standard must be specific to the product or service to reflect the ultimate goal of that product of service. If the standard does not accurately reflect the expectation of the business unit management and the ultimate customer, the benefit of Quality Assurance is undermined.
Unlike Quality Assurance which is focused on processes, Quality Control is concerned with the quality of in process or finished products. The tools of those responsible for executing Quality Control are commonly microscopes, rulers, mirrors, and customer satisfaction surveys. Quality Control does not prevent errors; Quality Control is responsible for identifying any deviations from the acceptance standard prior to that service or product being released to the next step in the work process or to the customer.
After a deviation is found, Quality Control documents the non-conformance. It is then the responsibility of management to determine how to resolve the identified error. Resolution of the error may include rework, repair, or scrapping of the product. The results of Quality Control inspections are fed back into the Quality Assurance program to identify process improvements that in turn minimize future work errors.
The Complementary Role of Quality Assurance and Quality Control
Both Quality Assurance and Quality Control ultimately seek to provide the customer with the product that is expected. By continuously providing feedback regarding output and process challenges, each supports the overall business goals of customer satisfaction, growth and profitability.