Quality assurance: A critical ingredient for organizational success

Trust makes the world go round. Without it, democracies crumble and relationships suffer. The same goes for organizations and businesses – without the trust of their customer base, they simply cannot succeed.

Trust, however, is never a given. Like respect, it must be won, and in an ever-evolving business landscape, it is earned through a commitment to consistency, reliability and quality management. Through every step of the process – whether as part of the manufacturing, delivery or consumption of goods and services – there simply is no trust without quality assurance.

Global markets and consumer expectations are rapidly evolving. In this fast-changing landscape, it isn’t always easy to stay ahead of the curve. So how can organizations optimize quality assurance (QA) in our uncertain but increasingly interconnected world?


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What is quality assurance?

Is there a quality assurance definition? In essence, it is a clear and concise framework that embraces every element of the operations of an organization, not least quality management which plays an instrumental role in fostering a culture of constant, ongoing improvement. The QA team is involved in all stages of development: production, testing, packaging and delivery.

The primary aim of QA is to reduce the risk of defects – and importantly, to address faults as early as possible in the value chain. This reduces the number of defects which are revealed at the stage of final inspection, when correction becomes difficult and costly. The further upstream a defective element is identified and corrected, thanks to a tightly managed quality assurance system, the less time and energy is wasted, reducing costs and safeguarding brand reputation.

In practice, this means putting in place both technical and managerial processes, so as to efficiently monitor and improve product or service quality. A QA system ensures these processes are implemented, including product testing, employee surveys or equipment safety assessments. Once implemented, all these elements will be geared towards maintaining and improving an organization’s quality standards. QA also ensures compliance with industry standards and regulations, gives organizations a competitive edge, and directly contributes to higher profitability.

Best practices in quality assurance

Quality assurance retains its magic when implemented in alignment with a series of best practices, including:

  • Strong leadership commitment and support
  • Detailed quality planning in product design and process development
  • Comprehensive training on QA principles and procedures
  • Rigorous process documentation and control
  • Extensive collaboration and communication across teams
  • Ongoing audits and risk assessment
  • Use of statistical quality control tools
  • Validation of corrective/preventive actions
  • Continual measurement and analysis of quality data
  • Recognition and replication of best practices

Close adherence to best practices ensures the integration of quality into every step of the value chain, from R&D to procurement, production to distribution – and all the way to post-sales services.

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Creating a quality assurance plan in six key steps

A robust plan requires careful planning, design, and a well-executed roll-out. Although the following steps may appear daunting at first glance, organizations typically find that they quickly become part of their operational fabric.

Here’s a brief rundown:

  1. Sharpen your focus: Conduct risk assessments to identify areas that would benefit from QA focus and develop procedures that are aligned with business processes.
  2. Define quality objectives: Clear and measurable goals, metrics and performance targets will make the plan much easier to implement.
  3. Roles and responsibilities: Training staff to detect and repair issues in the early stages of product development is crucial. This hinges upon the availability of easily digestible processes and rules that clearly describe objections and expectations in the day-to-day language of the organization.
  4. Analyse the results: Following implementation, it’s time to collect quality data. This will support strategic analysis, action and the review of key performance metrics.
  5. Make adjustments: After reviewing and reflecting upon feedback, the next step is to revisit original goals, making agreed-upon adjustments. This should be followed by a regular audit every two to three months – or at shorter intervals if needed.
  6. Celebrate QA successes: If the QA plan has boosted end goals, sales rates or customer satisfaction, let the teams know. Positive feedback anchors employee motivation. This will encourage staff to extend their knowledge of the process and contribute to a culture of operational excellence.

What is quality control?

The terms quality assurance and quality control (QC) are sometimes used interchangeably, but they represent distinct concepts. Here are the essential differences between quality assurance and quality control:

  • Quality assurance asks: “Are we doing the process right and preventing defects?” It refers to preventive activities to design, document and build quality into processes.
  • Quality control asks: “Are we producing the right product and meeting specifications?” It involves more detective work, such as conducting testing and inspection to identify defects and correct them.

In essence, quality assurance provides the system for quality control activities to take place. An effective quality system integrates both assurance and control to deliver products and services that consistently meet requirements.

In a similar fashion, there are important differences between quality assurance and quality management. In quality assurance, only potentially negative influences on the quality of the end product are analysed, and then, at best, eliminated. By contrast, quality management positively focuses on the quality of the product. It’s the ongoing quest to seek better and better. In other words, quality management establishes policies and objectives that improve organizational performance.

So, while quality management provides the overarching strategy, quality assurance deploys practices and processes to implement that strategy. Together, these coordinated activities focus on directing and controlling the quest for quality.

Standards of quality

A quality assurance system underscores an organization’s credibility, while also improving work processes and efficiency. ISO is a driving force behind QA practices and mapping the processes used to implement QA.

QA is often associated with the ISO 9000 family of standards. Many companies use ISO 9001 to ensure that their quality assurance system is in place and effective. ISO 9001 guidance includes a strong customer focus, top management practices, and how to keep pace with continuing improvement. It also contains practical information for risk-based decision making.

Quality assurance: Powering success

In today’s highly competitive global markets, organizations that make wise investments in QA are reaping the benefits. They mitigate risks, proactively reduce the chances of defects, perform to a consistent standard of quality, build trust among consumers, strengthen their industry position, and excel in crucial business metrics. In short, they embody the hallmarks of a credible, dependable and bankable brand that customers and stakeholders can believe in.