What is quality and how do you define it?

What is Quality? Quality is a difficult thing to define due to the subjective nature of the word.

This article explores how a business can define what quality means to them.

Once defined how does a business actually implement a quality assurance system?

  • What is Quality?
  • Quality Assurance delivers.
  • Who’s involved
  • How to build a quality program.

 

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What is Quality?

Definition

Believe it or not quality is not a simple term to define for the reason that each and every person you ask will have their own subjective view on it.  In the same way the word “love” has different meaning in different contexts.

The dictionary defines quality as “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.” or “a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.”

A better definition in my opinion is “An objective, measured approach to delivering a subjective need”

There are two vehicles in a car park, a minibus and a high end sports car.  Which is higher quality?  The answer depends on what you’re comparing it to because if your measure is fuel efficiency or ability to carry many people then the minibus would win hands down.  So coming up with the question of what is most important is the key to quality.

Once the need is made clear it becomes very easy to create objective measures to count how well that quality need is met.

  • Customer needs are always subjective as those needs are their own opinions and feelings.
  • A company’s is people.  People set the strategy, goals, objectives, etc. which will cause a different set of needs.
  • Quality needs to be measurable so everyone can see objectively if targets are being hit

One of the reasons I prefer this definition is the fact that quality will mean different things to you depending on your place in the business relationship.  Features of products or services will be key to some when comparing to others in the market yet eco-friendly operations might be more important to other people.

 

 

The primary aspects of quality

To make the answer to what is quality easier to give, the answer is broken into five aspects.

1. Product

First of all a business has to have something to produce; this is the products and / or services that the company offering to potential and existing customers.  The business fulfills their customers subjective needs meaning if a customer needs round wheels, building square ones is pointless.

2. Processes & Procedures

Secondly there is the practice of operating the business and ensuring that there are processes and procedures in place.

If certain equipment is needed to make something then there will be a host of processes and procedures for its operation, up keep and replacement.

3. Quality Control

Thirdly the actual act of quality control makes sure that the service is being produced in the manner it should be according to the processes and procedures.

Are we following the rules we created which we call our processes and procedures?

4. Quality Management

This area is not happy with just making sure things tick over.  Consequently the question arises, as a business can we analyse and improve performance using our quality controls?

5. Quality Assurance

The final aspect is the collective title of Quality Assurance.  Quality assurance is often used as the catch all term for all five aspects above and as a result is given as the answer to what is quality?  A quality assurance system would be more accurate for the catch all.

QA is how the business goes about ensuring that its service will reach their customers in a way that will satisfy their need.

Surprisingly communication is key here.  How does everyone know what is expected of them including the customer?

Wikipedia defines QA as:

“Quality assurance (QA) refers to the planned and systematic activities implemented in a quality system so that quality requirements for a product or service will be fulfilled. It is the systematic measurement, comparison with a standard, monitoring of processes and an associated feedback loop that confers error prevention.”

Quality Assurance delivers

What is a quality assurance system?

There are many reasons to bother with quality systems.  Good quality assurance systems increases customer confidence and a company’s credibility, improve work processes and efficiency, and enable companies to better compete with others to name some of the effects.

Quality assurance was introduced in World War II as munitions were inspected and tested for defects after construction.

Today’s quality assurance systems emphasize catching defects or glitches before they reach the customer.

 

What QA actually does

QA systems assure that tasks, procedures and processes execute exactly as intended every time. The approach is about optimizing productivity, efficiency and ultimately profitability.

When processes fail or are not followed, performance drops and metrics capture and highlight to management what happened.

Quality assurance is necessary to enable staff, management and directors to succeed.  It helps people to understand what is quality.

QA is not a way to identify and punish stupid or unmotivated people; it is focused on attaining the excellence required to go to that new, next level of a business.  A business can run without quality after all business starts that way.  If you want the business to run with the big boys then quality is essential.

Every time a business loses time because of a lack of priorities, working on a task someone else should be doing, or keeping working when a break would increase productivity, we fall further behind our potential for that day.  The processes and procedures ensure maximum results happen.  Making sure people are happy and efficient is just as key to the QA process but a lot of management forget this and only focus on production.

Many tools are available but core to all of them are metrics, specifically objective numbers that can be counted.  Time management and other tools put numbers on feelings.

 

Traits of quality focused companies

What is clear is that companies who follow a quality assurance program have a number of common principles that run throughout their organisation.  Quality focused companies have the following traits:

  • Let everyone know about their quality.
  • Zone in on what counts. They don’t collect data for the sake of it; they focus on what’s going to add real value to their operation.
  • Make their quality assurance processes the star of their operation.  Quality businesses don’t hide QA away in filing cabinets until audited.
  • Focus on simplicity. There is no part of their quality assurance process that doesn’t need to be there consequently focusing on simple processes that are going to enable your business to satisfy your customer’s needs.
  • Will have a knock on effect up and down their supply chain. Major suppliers will have to conform to certain standards if they are to maintain a healthy business relationship with an organisation that has a quality assurance system in place.
  • Are always vigilant. Quality assurance processes imply there is a constant cycle of reviewing and updating processes to obtain a high level of quality. When a company is monitoring the results of its efforts it has to remain constantly vigilant to the implications of that data.
  • Aren’t afraid to dig deep with their data. The phrase there is more than one way to skin a cat might come to mind, but companies that use quality assurance programs will always get as much information as possible out of the data that results from their processes.
  • Can answer “what is quality?” and “what quality means to their business”.

 

Who’s involved?

Every single employee should have aspects of quality assurance built into their roles, whether they are an entry level employee or the CEO.

However there are some roles that are specific to the idea of quality assurance and management.  The below are very handy for dropping into job descriptions.

Most big business will have dedicated QA teams which serves to highlight how important it is as a business process.  Smaller businesses can fold QA into existing staff roles but people have less time to spend on QA.

QA Specialists and QA officers duties are often interchangeable in title as a result terms define clear different roles.

 

QAO.  Quality Assurance Officer

  • Ensuring the effective resolution of any day to day quality issues.
  • Ensuring client products and processes are fully compliant.
  • Assist in internal process and system audits.
  • Contribute to the improvement of company quality compliance procedures.
  • Furthermore provide support for training.
  • Manage quality systems documents to drive compliance.
  • Review process investigations.
  • Monitor design of new products and services and identify any validations etc. required.
  • Assist in KPI production.

 

QAS.  Quality Assurance Specialist

  • Annual process reviews, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Review of pre and post processing documentation for testing.
  • As a result lead quality improvement projects
  • Training new QA staff, and act in a mentor capacity.
  • Furthermore participate in company process reviews
  • Consequently provide feedback on issues, ensuring continuous improvement in company processes.
  • Support the introduction of new products/services used for quality purposes.
  • Act as auditor of internal processes, and complete vendor audits when requested.
  • Carry out any compliance related training for the company

 

QAM.  Quality Assurance Manager

A QA manager is a proactive manager of the area and it’s objectives.  As a result QAMs usually directly report to senior management given the importance of feedback of the function.

At any moment the QAM should be able to speak for your business and state what is quality as it pertains to your business.

Their role should also include:

  • Management of the QA team
  • Furthermore approve budgets for the QA area
  • Review and approve the testing strategy for the company and provide formal sign off on all testing.
  • Review of testing results to assess impact on the company.
  • Participate in company induction programs. This duty shows how serious your business takes QA when highlighting the approach to all new staff coming into the organisation.

 

 

How to build a quality program

Start small, your business did

The concept of developing tasks, procedures and processes is key to helping a business grow.

The whole process needs people to go from “I know how to do this in my head” to written down and followed as instructions furthermore experienced managers know “far easier said than done”.

Someone has to start writing processes and procedures down which means they are not working.  Consequently the one’s who can write the best procedures often don’t have writing skills and more importantly you want to keep them working not writing.

Start small and above all pick specific parts of the business not all the business.  Put the measurements in and track the difference.

 

With a few under your belt…

What does quality assurance mean for your organisation?  In a contact centre environment for example it means ensuring the agents are giving optimal support and advice to the customers.  Your business goals and ambitions may change this.

Quality Assurance offers an organisation so much more but it needs to ensure it has the tools to deliver the improvements.  Metrics gathering tools are going to be key.  ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning tools are so helpful.

Above all a quality assurance approach offers a company a platform to tackle inefficiencies objectively and gives a clear direction and way forward for the company.

 

Over time…

In addition to specifying the tasks, procedures and processes, each time we need to also explicitly design a quality assurance program to ensure the potential is reached and answer for the business what is quality.

For a business starting is the hardest part of the process due to the commitment of time and resources.  So if you can get anything down and measured to begin with, the rest will come with time.  The idea and commitment is there.

What is quality and what does quality assurance mean to your organisation? It is important that you ask the question again because it’ll mean different things for different organisations, similar to the idea of quality.

 

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.

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