QA is the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service or facility to maximize the probability that standards of quality are being attained by the production process. QA cannot absolutely guarantee the production of quality products.
Two principles included in QA are: “Fit for purpose”, the product should be suitable for the intended purpose; and “Right first time”, mistakes should be eliminated. QA includes regulation of the quality of raw materials, assemblies, products and components, services related to production, and management, production and inspection processes.
Quality is determined by the product users, clients or customers, not by society in general. It is not the same as ‘expensive’ or ‘high quality’. Low priced products can be considered as having high quality if the product users determine them as such.
Steps for a Typical Quality Assurance Process
There are many forms of QA processes, of varying scope and depth. The application of a particular process is often customized to the production process.
A typical process may include:
- test of previous articles
- plan to improve
- design to include improvements and requirements
- manufacture with improvements
- review new item and improvements
- test of the new item
Valuable processes to perform on a whole consumer product is failure testing or stress testing. In mechanical terms this is the operation of a product until it fails, often under stresses such as increasing vibration, temperature, and humidity. This exposes many unanticipated weaknesses in a product, and the data is used to drive engineering and manufacturing process improvements. Often quite simple changes can dramatically improve product service, such as changing to mold-resistant paint or adding lock-washer placement to the training for new assembly personnel.
Many organizations use statistical process control to bring the organization to Six Sigma levels of quality, in other words, so that the likelihood of an unexpected failure is confined to six standard deviations on the normal distribution. This probability is less than four one-millionths. Items controlled often include clerical tasks such as order-entry as well as conventional manufacturing tasks.
Traditional statistical process controls in manufacturing operations usually proceed by randomly sampling and testing a fraction of the output. Variances in critical tolerances are continuously tracked and where necessary corrected before bad parts are produced.
Total Quality Management
The quality of products is dependent upon that of the participating constituents, some of which are sustainable and effectively controlled while others are not. The process(es) which are managed with QA pertain to Total Quality Management.
If the specification does not reflect the true quality requirements, the product’s quality cannot be guaranteed. For instance, the parameters for a pressure vessel should cover not only the material and dimensions but operating, environmental, safety, reliability and maintainability requirements.
QA in Software Development
The following are examples of QA models relating to the software development process.
Models and standards
ISO 17025 is an international standard that specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and or calibrations. There are 15 management requirements and 10 technical requirements. These requirements outline what a laboratory must do to become accredited. Management system refers to the organization’s structure for managing its processes or activities that transform inputs of resources into a product or service which meets the organization’s objectives, such as satisfying the customer’s quality requirements, complying with regulations, or meeting environmental objectives.
The CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) model is widely used to implement Quality Assurance (PPQA) in an organization. The CMMI maturity levels can be divided into 5 steps, which a company can achieve by performing specific activities within the organization. (CMMI QA processes are excellent for companies like NASA, and may even be adapted for agile development style).
During the 1980s, the concept of “company quality” with the focus on management and people came to the fore. It was realized that, if all departments approached quality with an open mind, success was possible if the management led the quality improvement process.
The company-wide quality approach places an emphasis on four aspects:-
- Elements such as controls, job management, adequate processes, performance and integrity criteria and identification of records
- Competence such as knowledge, skills, experience, qualifications
- Soft elements, such as personnel integrity, confidence, organizational culture, motivation, team spirit and quality relationships.
- Infrastructure (as it enhances or limits functionality)
The quality of the outputs is at risk if any of these aspects is deficient.
QA is not limited to the manufacturing, and can be applied to any business or non-business activity:
- Design work
- Administrative services
- Computer software development
It comprises a quality improvement process, which is generic in the sense it can be applied to any of these activities and it establishes a behavior pattern, which supports the achievement of quality.
In manufacturing and construction activities, these business practices can be equated to the models for quality assurance defined by the International Standards contained in the ISO 9000 series and the specified Specifications for quality systems.
In the system of Company Quality, the work being carried out was shop floor inspection which did not reveal the major quality problems. This led to quality assurance or total quality control, which has come into being recently.
Using Contractors and/or Consultants
Consultants and contractors are sometimes employed when introducing new quality practices and methods, particularly where the relevant skills and expertise are not available within the organization or when allocating the available internal resources are not available. Consultants and contractors will often employ Quality Management Systems (QMS), auditing and procedural documentation writing CMMI, Six Sigma, Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA), Quality Function Deployment (QFD), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), andAdvance Product Quality Planning (APQP).
Quality Assurance in European Vocational Education & Training
With the formulation of a joint quality strategy, the European Union seeks to fostering the overall attractiveness of vocational education & training (VET) in Europe. In order to promote this process, a set of new policy instruments were implemented, such as CQAF (Common Quality Assurance Framework) and replacement EQARF (European Quality Assurance Reference framework), which shall allow for EC-wide comparison of QA in VET and building the capacities for a common quality assurance policy and quality culture in VET throughout Europe. Furthermore the new policy instruments shall allow for an increased transparency and mutual trust between national VET systems.
In line with the European quality strategy, the member states subsequently have implemented national structures (QANRPs: reference points for quality assurance in VET), who closely collaborate with national stakeholders in order to meet the requirements and priorities of the national VET systems and support activities to training providers in order to guarantee the implementation and commitment at all levels. At European level, the cooperation between QANRPs will be ensured through the EQAVET network.
Over the past few years, with financial support of the European Union as well as the EU member states, numerous pilot initiatives have been developed, most of which are concerned with the promotion and development of quality in VET throughout Europe. Examples can be found in the project database ADAM, which keeps comprehensive information about innovation & transfer projects sponsored by the EU.
A practical example might be seen in the BEQUAL project, which has developed a benchmarking tool for training providers, who with the help of the online-tool can benchmark their quality performance in line with the CQAF quality process model. Furthermore the project offers a database with European good practice on quality assurance in the field of vocational education & training.
A different approach was developed by the European VETWORKS project. The project builds on the observation, that over the past years there’s rapid growing VET networks throughout Europe, with a strong tendency to interlocking educational activities across organisations and sectors. It is argued that the vast majority of instruments and methods of quality assurance available for educational planning, monitoring and evaluation on provider level do not meet the new requirements. They are designed for managing the quality of either individual organisations or discrete training processes and structures, and this way are systematically counting out collaborative quality processes within newly emerging learning networks. The VETWORKS approach therefore shall allow local networks to examine their strengths and weaknesses in the area of vocational education & training. When local networks understand the factors that contribute to their success and those that pose challenges, they can better undertake strategies to maximize their strengths and effectively address their weaknesses.
Recent experience in place-based learning strategies, shows that learning communities often deploy three key success areas (Faris, 2007):
- Partnership – learning to build links between all sectors and mobilize their shared resources;
- Participation – learning to involve the public in the policy process as well as learning opportunities;
- Performance – learning to assess progress and benchmark good practice.
The SPEAK-tool, adopted under the VETWORKS initiative to each of these areas deploys indicative descriptors, which local networks can use to determine achievements in their activities towards building on local VET quality. Following the EQARF process model, each indicative descriptor can be assigned a certain stage of the P-D-C-A cycle. This not only allows for compliance with the EQARF principles, but rather extends the original model by deploying a separate network level, bridging between systems and institute level. The quality process cycle employs four key areas of activity, typically found in quality management systems: quality planning, control, assurance and improvement. Each area of activity is focused on a specific quality issue, such as what do we want to achieve?, which concrete operations are required to ensure achievement? what have we achieved? what needs to be improved? indicative descriptors and process cycle define the core elements of quality management in VET networks. SPEAK aims at using quality assurance on a new range by systematically taking advantage of the EQARF and combining it with state-of-the-art methodologies of self-evaluation, especially the SPEAK instrument. By using SPEAK, stakeholders and managers of educational networks and programmes will be able to link progress indicators available for provider, network and system level:
- provider level: SPEAK helps to systematically gain knowledge about VET providers’ “performance” in their working environment (at the market, or in the network),
- network level: SPEAK helps to evaluate progress-indices, and measure the total operating performance of educational networks and organizations, by connecting relevant data on all actors´ levels: collaborators, volunteers, management etc.
- system level: SPEAK helps to reflect and concretize descriptors available for the system level in the light of local VET strategies and programmes.
Finally, on the basis of different analysis options SPEAK also can help to get essential insights in long-term effects of educational programs and requirements for change. The below table reflects this construction principle.