Most companies realize the ever-existing conflict between Quality Control and Production functions, but unfortunately, very few have realized or thought of the function that bridges the gap between them, namely the Quality Assurance.
It was more than 10 years ago when I was wandering in a steel manufacturing plant and saw a pile of steel rafters laid down in an area marked “Defects”. There, I met an exhausted, yet happy, man taking measurements of rafters and record them in a ‘checklist’. He was the QC man. “I’m ensuring rafters are produced according to quality standards,” he said. “20-25% is our daily defects.” “Has this percentage ever decreased?” I asked. “Nope, it’s the same for years, but we always take corrective actions to repair defects to assure quality.” QC man replied with a puzzled look. “You’re not assuring quality, nor do you control it. You merely inspect products and add more cost to it.” I replied irritatingly. I knew it might have been a tough answer by me but the misunderstanding of the QA/QC balance is tougher!
Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) exist in every aspect of our lives, not only in business. If I exercise and eat healthy food, I’m assuring good health in my body and I will not worry much when I do my check up at year end. If I follow controls outlined in a procedure to gather input data, I will not spend hours checking my analysis results in reports raised to top management.
In the realm of Project Management, to Assure Quality you need to follow specific activities to make sure that project processes will result in the required deliverables. We don’t wait to inspect deliverables during Monitoring & Controlling phase; we rather ought to build quality up front. And this should be done throughout the project life cycle. However, QA alone is not enough to ensure quality deliverables and QC tools should be employed during Controlling phase to determine whether project results comply with the set quality standards of the project.
QA is a process-related function. It is done during performing work to improve chances of getting quality output before it is resulted. Quality Audits are independent reviews to ensure that project activities are performed according to policies and procedures that have already been set in the Quality Plans. Another tool to assure quality in project activities is the Process Analysis which is concerned with identifying needed improvement in the current project processes to produce quality deliverables.
On the other hand, QC is a product-related function which inspects the end deliverable to determine if it meets the quality standards. This is usually done during the Monitoring & Controlling phase of the project life cycle.
Having said that, QA and QC do not stop at what I’ve mentioned above; they continually operate to correct and to prevent failures and to reduce Cost of Quality (COQ). Many tools and techniques can be used to do this job such as Fish-Bone (Ishikawa) diagram, Control Charts, Histograms, Pareto Chart, Run Chart, Scatter Diagram, and Statistical Sampling. The theme behind these tools is to learn the cause of problem, correct it, and prevent it from happening again. Hence, reducing project cost.
“Shearing machine was not calibrated for ages!” the QC man whispered to me the next day. “Please, let’s sit today and document a Standard Operating Procedure for machines calibration.” I whispered to him. We compiled the calibration procedure and published it immediately. Consequently, defects dropped to 12% the following couple weeks.