There are ‘major’ differences, goes the familiar story, between quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA). QC, putting it at its most basic, is widely interpreted as being concerned with verifying the output of a process (the product) and establishing if it is defective. QA is its angelic twin, focussed on ensuring that the ideal process was followed to reduce to a minimum the chances of any defects. One therefore exists to identify variance, the other to protect against it.
However you like it, the difference is slender and rather unhelpful.
If you review the history of quality in business, you will find that the idea of ‘controlling’ quality emerged in the first decades of the twentieth century. Yet, even at that time, the concept was beginning to expand from the then-prevailing practice of after-the-fact inspection to the more proactively-minded prevention.
As early as the immediate post war reconstruction of Japan, broader interpretations of the possibilities for quality as an indicator of excellence had begun to take hold. Work led by the likes of W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Joseph A. Juran, inspired a quality movement in that nation’s boardrooms. The centrality of quality to the performance of the business was firmly established and gave rise to the increasing focus on using measures of quality to drive improvements. Improvements matter if your aim is to generate efficiencies and to increase customer satisfaction.
It’s rather easy to forget that last point in the obsession with quality systems, such as ISO 9000, where QA/QC become something of an end in themselves. Keep following that road and pretty soon the cost of quality systems outstrips the cost of poor quality.
But there are simpler ideas that create the means to manage for quality. Juran’s Quality Trilogy— comprising quality planning, control and improvement—encompasses the whole range of business operations, applying a similar logic to establish quality in process or product design, a set of tools to control quality during operations, and steps to identify and implement breakthrough improvements.
In essence, the Juran Trilogy is a universal way of thinking about quality—it fits all functions, all levels, and all product and service lines. The underlying concept is that managing for quality consists of three universal processes: quality planning (quality by design), quality control (process control and regulatory compliance) and quality improvement (lean six sigma).
By focussing on the three aspects of planning/design, control—by which we really mean control, not after-the-fact filtering out—and improvement, you have a chance that rather than fire-fighting the mistakes, you’re continually making improvements that will sustain into the future.
But wait a minute… haven’t we just created three Q-words where before there were only two? Yes and no. The Juran approach to managing for quality is wrapped up in the Trilogy and is as such holistic. It’s quality everything, if you prefer. It applies across the business, is led by the executive, embedded in the culture, and effective in the long term.
Far better to think of ‘quality everything’—or you might call it excellence, or high performance, or something else—as a pervasive single concept, not a series of silos or fiefdoms within the business.
The proliferation of job titles does little to help businesses run better. In the case of quality, it probably adds to the confusion many people feel over the differences and the similarities between those official titles quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) in businesses today.
Worse yet, the divisions all too frequently create artificial barriers and independent activities that are too narrowly focussed, rather than looking at the whole picture.
Quality is neither the process nor the output, but everything—how we conceive, design and specify the product, how we procure its materials and components, how we manufacture it, market and distribute it. Only by thinking that way can we properly control it, be assured that we are in control of it and be able continuously to improve it.
To find out more about the Juran Trilogy, quality by design, quality control and continuous improvement, please browse our Knowledge Base or speak to one of our consultants.