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The Q School of Thought

03/28/2011

As long as man has been building things (the pyramids, the cotton gin, automobiles, mobile phones), there’s been some form of quality (Q) assurance. Although the methods have differed quite a bit throughout history, it really wasn’t tracked or measured until the Industrial Revolution, when good craftsmanship and workmanship were the foundations of the quality of goods and services.

Still the basis of the Q school of thought today, good craftsmanship and workmanship at the individual level help ensure Q. But with advances in technology, an expanding global marketplace, and a larger workforce, the need for controlling and managing defects at a higher level became necessary. Thus, the process of quality assurance, or QA, was born. In a recent post, I discuss the history of quality assurance and how it evolved from quality control (after WWII) to Total Quality Management and where it’s heading.

Keep in mind, total quality assurance seeks the commitment of all those associated with a product or service, not just the individual worker of days gone by. Management must decide whether quality is inspected-in or built-in. QA policies and systems cover a broad range from where defects are left for the customer to detect, to those where management takes every reasonable step to prevent them.

So what’s so important about quality assurance and quality control? How about what it costs you if you allow defective products to leave your building? Quality costs at both extremes can be relatively high or low. There’s the cost of a disgruntled customer when something breaks or doesn’t work as it should—pretty easy to fix, but you may lose that customer. But on the other end of the spectrum, there’s the possibility that a defect can cause harm or loss of life. Remember Toyota’s “sticky brakes,” where the company was forced to recall more than 8.67 million vehicles?

It’s the cost of defects that decides on a practical, optimal quality assurance system. Unfortunately, operators on the production floor don’t always have the “complete picture” and wonder why known defects are allowed to leave the building. Anyone heard of AOQLs (acceptable outgoing quality levels)?

Essentially, it’s up to you to decide the cost of possible defects, how those costs (monetary, PR, or otherwise) would affect your company, and the QA methods you implement to control and manage those defects based on the effects of those costs.

Then we have Quality Management, defined as quality planning, quality control, quality assurance, and quality improvement. The basic premise and foundation of quality management is: say what you do, do what you say, record what you did, prove it, and improve it.

Check out a recording I created regarding Quality’s basic premise.

What QA methodology do you have in place? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please leave a comment to this post.

Posted by Heather Driscoll, Quality Assurance Specialist, Synergy Resources

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