A project isn’t successful just because it has been completed on time and within budget. There is one other factor that is critical to success: quality.
No matter how quickly and cheaply a project is completed, stakeholders are not going to be happy if the quality of the product or service doesn’t meet their expectations. So, how can a manager track the quality of their project and make sure it meets the requirements of stakeholders? Quality assurance, that’s how.
What Is Quality Assurance?
Quality assurance is a way to avoid mistakes in the project’s product or service, and thus prevent problems for your stakeholders. It’s the part of quality management that focuses on maintaining the integrity of the product or service, which gives stakeholders the confidence that their quality requirements will be met. It is, therefore, a foundational pillar of project management.
The Difference Between Quality Assurance and Quality Control
The difference between quality assurance and quality control is subtle but significant, although both terms are often used interchangeably to describe the quality management of the project’s product or service.
The difference is a matter of where the focus occurs in a project. Quality control is more concerned with quality earlier in the project process. Assurance, though, is more about the implementation of inspection and structured testing throughout every phase of the project.
Quality assurance uses a quality system that is set up to implement administrative and procedural tasks, which create goals for the product or service of the project. This provides a systematic measurement and comparison with a standard, along with a monitory of processes and a feedback loop to make sure no errors pass through production. Quality control, however, is primarily just focused on process output.
Principles of Quality Assurance
There are two principles to quality assurance. One is “fit for purpose,” meaning the product or service meets its intended purpose. The other is “right first time,” in which any mistakes are immediately dealt with.
With the two above principles in play, the goal is to make the product or service work correctly all the time through the management of the variables in the project. To do so, quality assurance involves the management of the quality of raw materials, assemblies, products and components; services related to production; and the management, production and inspection process.
History of Quality Assurance
Quality assurance isn’t a new concept. You can find evidence of it back in the Middle Ages where guilds maintained the quality of goods and services of its members by setting standards that were a requirement for guild membership.
The duties of quality control were also placed on royalty, to maintain their warships, for example. They also helped standardize the training for navies and their supplies to make sure long sea journeys were as safe as possible.
The Industrial Revolution revolutionized quality assurance, too. No longer were workers solely responsible for the quality of their work. Systems and groups were set up to specialize in quality assurance, and foremen and management were placed in a position to oversee this work.
War and Quality Assurance
Wars are horrible for everyone and everything except advancements in techniques, such as surgery and quality assurance. The world wars required massive manufacturing initiatives that were very complex. With mass production and piece work, quality could suffer, so new ideas about quality assurance, such as Henry Ford’s standardization of design, were used.
After WWII, manufacturing that had been destroyed was rebuilt and new quality assurance concepts were introduced, such as more collaborative ideas for quality and a more comprehensive approach.
Quality Assurance Approaches
- Failure Testing: Also referred to as stress testing, failure testing is a way to push a product to its limits by increasing vibration, temperature, humidity, etc., to expose inherent weaknesses, and then use those findings to improve the product to uphold a higher standard.
- Statistical Control: This type of quality assurance is based on analyses of objective and subjective data to track quality data, and then chart it against a common cause variance.
- Total Quality Management: Here the quality of the product is dependent on the participating constituents, some sustainable and controllable, others not. If the specification does not match its true quality requirements, then the quality is not guaranteed.
- Models and Standards: This is an international standard that has general requirements for competence. There are tests to carry out, 15 management requirements and 10 technical requirements, in a laboratory that is accredited.
- Company Quality: This concept came about in the 1980s and focuses on all departments approaching quality lead by management to develop a quality improvement process. This is done through controls, job management, process, performance, knowledge, skills and experience, integrity, confidence and infrastructure.
Quality Assurance in Practice
Quality assurance has a place in most all industries, and the use of contractors or consultants to handle quality assurance is not unusual.
The Medical Industry
In the medical industry quality assurance is highly important, as a mistake there could lead to loss of human life. Agencies are employed nearly everywhere, from hospitals to laboratories, to make sure their standards are in tune with the industry.
The Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry has quality assurance, but calls it product assurance, which works in tandem with project management and engineering to avoid catastrophic failures that have a human cost. The product assurance department reports to the highest management levels and has its own budget.
Quality Assurance Testing
Testing is the process used to execute a system of quality assurance. It is used to detect the problems in a product or service. The importance of testing is obvious: the product or service that is completed improperly is going to dissatisfy the stakeholder, but there can also be safety issues that will put people in harm’s way if not addressed.
Testing requires the following:
- Analysis and definition
- Design architecture and description
- Coding a logic analysis
- Change and configuration management
- Testing and standard compliance
- Release management and release control
The difference between quality assurance and testing is that quality assurance is about the activities designed to make sure the project is conforming to the expectations of the stakeholders, while test is a process to explore a system to find defects. Testing is focused on system inspection and finding bugs, with a product orientation and corrective activity. Testing’s aim is to control the quality, while quality assurance is to assure the quality.