What Is Quality Assurance?

Definition and Examples of Quality Assurance

Man and woman conducting quality assurance
alvarez / Getty Images

Quality assurance (QA) is the act or process of confirming that a firm's quality requirements are being met. Managing the quality of production involves planning, fulfilling, and monitoring activities. Quality assurance is the monitoring facet of that discipline.

Learn about the history of quality assurance, why it's important, and how the International Organization for Standardization attempts to apply quality assurance standards globally.

What Is Quality Assurance?

Quality assurance encompasses the processes and procedures that systematically monitor different aspects of a service or facility. Through audits and other forms of assessment, quality assurance efforts detect and correct problems or variances that fall outside established standards or requirements.

In other words, quality assurance ensures a high level of quality during the development of products or services.

A business can build a positive reputation for reliability when it ensures a consistent level of quality in its products or services. This bolsters consumer trust and confidence in the business, and it helps the business compete with others in the same market.

The term "quality assurance" is sometimes used interchangeably with "quality control," another facet of the management process. However, quality control pertains to the actual fulfillment of whatever quality requirements have been put in place. Quality assurance is checking in on quality control methods to ensure they're working as planned.

Most businesses utilize some form of quality assurance in production, from manufacturers of consumer packaged goods to software development companies. Some companies may even establish a quality assurance department with employees that focus solely on quality assurance.

How Quality Assurance Works

Quality assurance methods focus on establishing good processes to produce products with the quality already built-in, rather than going through an unmonitored production process and trying to “inspect the quality” of a product that’s already been finished.

Concepts of quality control can be traced back to at least the Middle Ages and the rise of guilds. A craftsman could access a network of connections with other craftsmen and suppliers by joining a guild organization. He could then benefit from the reputation of the guild based on standards of quality in the products produced by its members.

The Industrial Revolution brought about more specialization in labor, as well as mechanization. Quality assurance evolved to address specialized tasks performed by workers. With the introduction of mass production, the need to monitor the quality of components being produced by large numbers of workers created a role for quality inspectors.

As the number of things being created rose, statistical process control—utilizing statistical methods to help ensure quality—became increasingly important. World War II and the need for consistently well-made munitions further stressed the importance of quality assurance.

Modern Approaches

Today's approaches to quality assurance may differ depending on the industry. For example, a hospital might implement QA methods to improve the quality of healthcare. This could include defining quality by understanding core activities in effective patient care, setting quality benchmarks, and measuring quality with surveys, audits, and supervision.

Another business, such as a nutritional supplement manufacturer, would have completely different methods to ensure quality since its product parameters are completely different than a hospital. For example, the supplement company might guide its processes based on guidelines for active pharmaceutical ingredients.

International Quality Assurance Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was founded in 1947 with the goal of ensuring quality across national borders. ISO consists of standards organizations that represent over 160 countries. It maintains an effective quality assurance system for manufacturing and service industries.

One product of the ISO is the set of standards that have become known as the ISO 9000 family. The criteria detailed in these management systems are designed to help organizations meet statutory and regulatory requirements for product quality and consumer needs.

Manufacturers and businesses can become certified by fulfilling the requirements defined in ISO 9001. This offers independent confirmation of an organization's adherence to quality standards. More than 1 million organizations around the world are ISO 9001 certified.

To obtain ISO 9001 certification, the management of an organization develops quality assurance goals that are codified into policies and guidelines. These policies and guidelines are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of its business and manufacturing processes, and they're often crafted with the assistance of a consultant.

Once the organization implements the guidelines, the systems are assessed for compliance with ISO 9000 standards. The results of the assessment identify any areas that fall outside of ISO standards. If the organization addresses any problem areas within a given time frame, then it receives certification.

Key Takeaways

  • Quality assurance is the act or process of confirming that quality standards are being met within an organization.
  • Quality assurance is one facet of quality control, alongside proper planning and implementation.
  • The International Organization for Standardization helps develop, implement, and ensure international standards for quality.