QA and QC
What's the difference between Quality Assurance and Quality Control? Is there one?
It's not at all uncommon to hear someone talk about 'QA' when what they actually mean is 'QC'. Or vice versa. Or even perhaps, quality management. Although one must admit that 'QA' rolls off the tongue far more easily than QC and a whole lot more easily than 'QM'.
QA and QC are closely related. They are both part of quality management. But they are different .
What QC is
The C in QC gives you the clue: it's about controlling quality. QC is about inspections, checks and tests.
QC is used to distinguish between what's 'good' (OK, passes, meets requirements, conforms, whatever you want to call it) and what's 'bad' (not OK, fails the test, doesn't conform, nonconformity, nonconforming product or service, doesn't meet requirements).
The focus of QC is to verify the quality of the output: of the service or product delivered to a customer, but often also involves tests, checks, measurements or other activities on parts or components or important stages before the service/product reaches 'final' status.
Examples of QC for services
- Lead architect reviews another architect's work before it is submitted to the client for review and discussion
- Peer review of a psychologist's counselling approach and notes for a client
- Editorial review of written work for grammar, spelling, inconsistencies and so forth, before it is published
- Restaurant chef 'at the pass' inspecting dishes before they are taken out to be served to customers
Examples of QC on product
- Inspection of final product before delivery to customer
- Inspection of parts in the process of manufacturing (eg, 'first off' to check that a CAD/CAM program is working correctly before doing a full production run)
- Tests of modules of an IT system; tests of the the whole IT system
- Measurement of a component, and comparison of the actual dimensions measured to those shown on the engineering drawing
What QA is
The A in QA stands for Assurance. It's about assuring quality (yes, really).
QA involves thinking about what is required to ensure quality will be achieved, and to set out processes, standards, procedures and/or policies to do that. Typical results of QA are quality plans, inspection and test plans (ITPs), documentation and training. It moves a step up from finding the failures to aiming to prevent or eliminate them.
The focus of QA is to provide confidence that requirements and standards are met, and that processes and system have been followed.
Examples of QA
- A checklist for assembly of product (the procedure/process as a series of steps that must be done)
- A set of recipes used in a restaurant, with pictures showing how each dish is to be plated up
- A written procedure
- A set of processes for a product that cover the whole 'life cycle' from getting customer requirements, through designing the product, procuring the materials or parts, manufacturing, storage and delivery
- A set of processes for a service that cover the whole 'life cycle' from establishing what the customer requires, through designing the service, developing and delivering it
What ISO 9000 says
Since this site is focussed on ISO 9001, a brief look at what ISO 9000 has to say.
Quality control is defined as: “A part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements” (clause 3.2.10, ISO 9000)
Quality assurance is defined as that “part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled” (op cit, clause 3.2.11)
Quality management: 'coordinated activities to direct and control and
organization with regard to quality' (op cit, clause 3.2.8.
Hmm. As I've said elsewhere, ISO 9000 makes for very dry reading. These definitions give you a clue as to why, and are really rather broad and not terribly useful.
Why you need QA and QC
If the only part of quality you use is QC, you would be constantly checking, measuring and testing your services or widgets, but even when you found some that failed, you wouldn't ever do anything to your system to improve it, to understand and eradicate problems you find when inspecting, testing or measuring or attempt to remove those failures.
If you only used QA, you would perhaps have what look like/sound like a great set of processes and paper work.
But you never actually test, check or measure the product or service to verify
that it actually does what it is supposed to do. (Which doesn't say a lot for assurance, in my eyes.)
In either case, the service or product is unlikely to meet what your customer wanted and expected.
And then there's quality management, which includes QC and QA as well as a bunch more things.