Which quality assurance approach do you use?

Developing a quality program for you business gives you the choice of a quality assurance approach.  Which approach works best for you?

This article looks at the different approaches available and what they could mean to your business.

  • PDCA cycle
  • ISO Approaches
  • A Task Based Approach
  • Risk Based Approach
  • Goal Based Approaches


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Quality Assurance Approach

There is no one-stop-shop for the ideal approach to quality assurance in an organisation.

The approach adopted completely depends on the ethos of the company, the product or service it’s offering, and the buy-in from the top levels of the company all the way down.

Many organisations will adopt a theory, and then adapt it to their own setup.


The Heavy Weigths

PDCA cycle

Plan Do Check Act


The most widely recognized approach is the PDCA cycle which comprises of four main stages: Plan – Do – Check – Act.

Each of these stages of the process tailor specifically to the company’s processes. When adopted, as the name suggests, this continuous cycle approach aims to improve the company’s offering so that they can satisfy the subjective needs of the company’s customers.



A company must establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with it’s targets and goals. By establishing output expectations, the completeness and accuracy of the specification is also a part of the targeted improvement. When possible those involved should start on a small scale to test possible effects.


This is the stage implementation of the plan occurs. The process executes the documented plan. Data is collected for analysis at later stages in the cycle.


Here the actual results are studied. These results should also be compared against the expected results from the plan phase.  Are there any differences to what was expected.  Are there any deviations in implementation from the plan?  The appropriateness and completeness of the plan is also reviewed. Charting data can make this much easier to see trends over several PDCA cycles and it will also makes the information easier to digest.  This information is what you need for the final phase.


Request corrective actions on significant differences between actual and planned results. Analyze the differences to determine their cause. Determine where to apply changes that will include improvement of both the process and/or product or service.

If when you pass through the four stages of the PDCA cycle there is no need for any improvement, refine the scope of the PDCA.  In the Plan phase, plan and improve with more detail in the next iteration of the cycle.

Some modern trainers now also refer to the “A” as “Adjust” instead of “Act”. This helps trainees to understand that the 4th step is more about adjusting/correcting the difference between the current state and the planned state instead of thinking that the “A” is all about action and implementation (which actually happens in the second (“D”) stage).


ISO Approaches

Those companies familiar with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) set of quality standards may be more accustomed with that approach to quality assurance.

The standards are across entire business sectors and are based in common experiences of an area.  For this reason large portions can be not applicable to your specific business.

The ISO documentation goes into far more detail on the various approaches.  The benefit of this approach is that documentation is already available and can serve as a checklist for a business.  The overhead is significant.

Such detail is outside the scope of this article but what follows should give you a good basic understanding of the ISO standard approaches to quality assurance.  Click here.

One of the massive benefits of this approach is that it can be audited by external parties.  This level of external validation of the quality of your processes can become industry standard such as ISO 27001 for Data Security.


Primary alternate approaches

A Task Based Approach

Image from http://bit.ly/2MwXK07

This approach is to prescribe what has to happen then supervise adherence to these rules or procedures.  This forms a lot of the basis for the ISO 9001 standard.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915) conceived the system and called it the Taylor System of Management  .


Taylor formulated four principles of scientific management which were:

  1. Develop a science for each element of a man’s work .
    This is almost equivalent to the ISO 9001 requirement for documented procedures.
  2. Scientifically select and then train, teach and develop the workman .
    This is equivalent to the ISO 9001 requirement for training and competence.
  3. Heartily cooperate with the men so as to ensure all of the work is being done in accordance with the principles of the science that have been developed .
    This is equivalent to the ISO 9001 requirements for verification and audit.
  4. The management takes over all of the work for which it is better fitted than the worker.
    This is not prescribed by ISO 9001 except for requiring certain activities of top management and a management representative.

Taylor clearly recognized that in an industrial age, work needs managing as a system and that management and workers are partners within it and not adversaries however it was, as Taylor admitted, a ‘‘task based system’’.

Taylor introduced the idea of separating decision making from working consequently an extreme translation of this is “leaving your brain at the door”.

In simple terms this leads to a separation between planners and doers but as workers became more educated they could undertake more of the planning and see planning and doing as two roles rather than two jobs.


Risk Based Approach

Delivering a risk based approach

Another quality assurance approach is to identify the risks to achieving quality and then manage these risks effectively.

This was how ISO 9001 evolved as a result of the compilation of the measures taken to remove the risk of shipping defective product to customers.   This approach features very heavily in the ISO 27001 standard.

The focus is on the prevention, detection and correction of defects.

This started alongside Taylor’s task based system by introducing inspection as a means of sorting good products from bad products.

The introduction of in-process inspection attempts to reduce end of line rejects.  Eventually defect investigation cells were created.  These cells discovered the cause of the rejects earlier and put measures in place to prevent recurrence.


The concept developed to an extent where there were:

  • Final inspections to reduce the risk of shipping defective product to customers;
  • In-process inspections to reduce the risk of passing defective product to the next stage in the process;
  • Receipt inspections to reduce the risk of passing defective product into the process;
  • Supplier appraisals to reduce the risk of receiving defective product from suppliers;
  • Design reviews to reduce the risk of releasing deficient designs into production;
  • Reliability analysis to reduce the risk of in-service failures;
  • Hazards analysis to reduce the risk of harming people producing, using, maintaining or disposing of the product;
  • Contract reviews to reduce the risk of entering into contracts, the organization is unable to fulfil.


How to start a risk based approach?

There are many other risks we could enter into this list but we can characterize the risk-based approach by seeking answers to five questions.  How do we..

  1. Identify what could jeopardize our ability to achieve our goal? (Risks)
  2. Put in place measures to contain these risks?
  3. Confirm containment of the risk?
  4. Ensure the integrity of these checks?
  5. Prevent these failures reoccurring?
Image from http://bit.ly/2Mrevdf


This approach can lead to a dependence on inspection to detect problems before they enter the next process.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900 – 1993) taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, businesses can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs.

Furthermore Deming had 14 key points the third of which was:

“Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.  Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place”


Goal Based Approaches

Quality does not appear by chance.  Getting lucky once or twice is not quality furthermore as Deming advocated one has to design quality into the products and services.

The risk based quality assurance approach depends on our ability to predict the effect that our decisions have on others.  Consequently we may go over the top as is often the case with health and safety measures taken by local authorities.  Similarly we might not have sufficient imagination to identify the consequence of our actions.

We therefore need other means to deliver quality products – we have to adopt practices that enable us to achieve our objectives while preventing failures from occurring.



And a final few more

There are more approaches which complement these ISO standard approaches to quality assurance. There follows a brief description of them here with even more detail available in the ISO documentation.


A system approach

This views the organization as a system of processes consequently it is the effective management of the interactions between these processes that will enable the organization to achieve its quality goals.

A process approach

This recognizes that work is performed through a process to achieve an objective.  As a result it is the effective management of the activities and resources within this process that will deliver outputs that achieve the objective.


A behavioural approach

This recognizes that all work is performed by people and that it is the effective management of the interactions between people that will enable the organization to achieve and sustain success.



Choosing an approach and then applying it to a business is a wise investment but not without its challenges as a result choosing a strong basic strategy can help make the system work.

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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