Does Quality Assurance Improve Quality?
Companies who confuse quality assurance and quality improvement may find that they do not achieve the results they were expecting.
• Quality assurance (QA) describes the process by which organizations manage and account for the quality of their products and/or services to their stakeholders. For companies operating in highly regulated industries, this is the minimum quality expectation.
• Quality improvement (QI) is the way companies identify and act on opportunities to enhance the quality of their products and/or services to improve the value they offer to their stakeholders.
While QA is about the verification of quality, QI centers on continual improvement.
The not-for-profit Performance Review Institute (PRI) utilizes a number of different approaches to ensure that the quality of the Nadcap program is assured yet open to continual improvement. These are shared in this article in support of PRI’s mission to add value for stakeholders in industries where safety and quality are shared goals.
As shown in Fig. 1, some of the ways in which the quality of the Nadcap program is assured are given in Table 1.
At the same time, there are a number of avenues that help to identify quality-improvement opportunities. These are shown in Table 2.
Balancing QA and QI Activities
Like the Performance Review Institute, most companies work toward balancing QA and QI activities based on their particular business needs and situation.
A typical example of how the quality function might do this is by weighing the demands of time, cost and quality. Ideally, quality would be weighted more heavily than the other two considerations, but more often than not the limitations of time and cost carry the most weight.
Sometimes this evaluation is done informally and almost automatically based on personal knowledge, and sometimes it requires a more precise, thoughtful approach. This depends on the preference of the responsible staff person and on the operational norms of the company.
For accredited companies and other stakeholders, Nadcap has become acknowledged as a form of QA and QI. Accreditation assures that the company has demonstrated a high competency level, while many companies have tracked quality improvements related to their Nadcap accreditation. A recent survey of 1,581 aerospace suppliers found that 85% report that Nadcap has helped them improve quality. Of course, Nadcap emphasizes process control, a key aspect of QA that is not inspection-based. (A separate article will be published on this soon.)
But is there a need to look at QI? Isn’t QA enough? The short answer is it depends on the vision of the organization. If meeting the requirements is the goal, then QA will suffice. But if the company wants to exceed expectations and mark their position as an industry leader, there needs to be focus on QI as well. This may require a cultural shift, as described in a recent article published by PRI (http://pri-network.org/PRI/Creating-a-Culture-of-Quality.id.1281.htm).
So, taking everything into account, the key question is: Do you want your customers to view your company as one that is satisfied with meeting the minimum quality requirements or as one that goes over and above customer expectations in the pursuit of continual improvement? IH
For more information about Nadcap, please contact Joanna Leigh at the Performance Review Institute (PRI) at email@example.com.