A quality assurance program is a system of policies and procedures designed to continually improve specific business processes. While most popular in manufacturing settings, quality assurance efforts can be utilized to improve the efficiency and quality of any workflow--secretarial, production-oriented, or managerial, for example.
Quality Assurance programs are often confused with Quality Control efforts; the difference between the two is in their focus and time orientation. Quality control programs focus on reactive measures such as post-manufacturing quality testing. Quality assurance is concerned with improving processes in a proactive manner in an attempt to prevent defects from occurring in the first place. A balanced system involving both types of quality improvement systems produces the best results.
Policies and Procedures
Popular quality assurance policy initiatives include failure testing, SPC (Statistical Process Control), and TQM (Total Quality Management).
Failure testing procedures are performed before a process is carried out to ensure that the material or process in question measures up to standards. A manufacturing example of failure testing is a stress test for steel used by automakers. A portion of each steel delivery can be placed under a high-pressure crushing device to ensure that the steel is strong enough to support a frame. An administrative example of failure testing is a computer-skills test given to clerical applicants to ensure that they have the appropriate skill set before selection.
SPC is used in coordination with Six Sigma programs to track the level of defects produced by a specific process. The reported number of defects serves as a measure of the performance of quality assurance policies, and the ultimate goal is to consistently reduce defects to minimum levels.
TQM is a relatively new quality assurance concept that places emphasis on every aspect of an organization rather than singling out individual processes. TQM efforts begin and end with customer satisfaction. Customer feedback is considered along every step of product development, from marketing to production to distribution, ensuring that all products meet customer requirements before the first unit is shipped, rather than adapting the product at a later stage.
The PCDA Model
The PCDA Model is a tool that can assist your efforts to create effective quality assurance policies, and will help you to adapt and refine your policies over time. According to WiseGeek.com, PCDA stands for “Plan, Do, Check, Act.” Begin with careful planning efforts to ensure that all quality assurance policies are in line with company initiatives and quality standards. Put your plan into action after gaining the support of all levels of management in your company. Audit your efforts and record all relevant performance data, and then act upon your findings to adapt and refine your policies and procedures.
Remember that line-management buy-in is vital to the success of any quality assurance initiative. Make sure that your managers are fully aware of your new policies and procedures, and that they have access to the information and tools necessary to fulfill their responsibilities. Before implementing your quality assurance program, ensure that the technical infrastructure is versatile enough to handle the program. Perform internal audits frequently.
Several tools can assist you in developing a world-class quality assurance program. TQM and SPC software can help you to store and utilize data related to process improvements, and can help with the calculation of complex models. Consultants specializing in quality assurance implementation can jump-start your efforts and leave you with a manageable quality program. Trade journals and professional associations related to quality assurance and control are also great places to obtain valuable information and resources. (See Resources for the Society of Quality Assurance.)