Product developers and manufacturers employ a system generically called Quality Assurance to guard against errors. Specifically, QA personnel assess the quality of the different stages of product creation, from research and development to product launch, sometimes called "end of life." Different industries use different types of QA processes. Some of these are Six Sigma, LEAN, and ISO 9000 (See Resources below). The following are the general steps used by most QA programs.
Determine your goals and objectives. Not all QA projects will have the same objectives. It is important to clearly define the need and the purpose behind any product audit. If you're are in the product development stage, your role in QA will be to create detailed documentation of the development process that can be used for future QA audits. Requirements, organizational benchmarks, competitive performance and any legal issues related to the new product should all be reviewed and documented.
Define your customer. Customers can be both internal and external. Logistics may not be involved in product creation, but logistics staff should be involved in the QA process if distribution is a key consideration for getting the product to the customer. The manufacturing process should feed into distribution. No one will care if a product is consistently error free if it takes forever to reach the customer.
Pay attention to customer needs. QA programs are ultimately for the customer. Don't make the mistake of conducting an assessment without knowing what the customer wants. Regulatory compliance will not beat the competition. QA is as much about creating a better product as it is about compliance and reducing the cost of production. These needs should be covered in any initial documentation.
Keep costs uppermost in your mind. Finance has most likely performed a cost benefit analysis on the product before development. The goal of this analysis was to create the highest quality product within a specific cost target. Pricing is dependent on quality being maintained within these cost constraints.
Test the product. This test should be based on certain attributes discussed in Steps 1 and 2, such as compliance, customer needs, and any legal concerns.
Create a process or workflow map. This is a visual diagram of the flow of the product through production to delivery. Take note of the cycle time and look for redundant or non-value- added processes. Make sure each product goes through the same process. Consistency and error reduction are at the heart of QA.
Develop process controls. Controls help to ensure that QA is always a consideration. The best controls are automated and unobtrusive.
Continue to monitor. QA is about continuous improvements in product quality, cost reduction (price to maintain competitivness), reduction in cycle time, and faster delivery. Getting the product to the customer one day faster than the competition, for example, is a competitive advantage companies cannot afford to overlook. Those that do will find their market share shrinking.
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