Learn About Quality Assurance

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••• Quality Assurance. Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty Images

Quality assurance is a methodology used in the development of products or services that ensure a level of quality in production. Also referred to as quality control (and QA or QC for short), it encompasses the processes and procedures that systematically monitor different aspects of a service, process or facility to detect and correct problems or variances that fall outside of established standards or requirements.

Most businesses utilize some form of quality assurance in production, from manufacturers of consumer packaged goods to software development companies, and may even be represented by distinct departments or divisions that focus solely on quality assurance issues.

Purposes of Quality Assurance

By ensuring a level of quality in its products or services, the business is able to build a positive reputation for reliability and consistency. This bolsters consumer trust and confidence in the business and helps it compete with other businesses in the same market.

History of Quality Assurance

Early concepts of quality control can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the rise of guilds. By joining a guild organization, a craftsman could access a network of connections with other craftsmen and suppliers, and 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, and quality assurance evolved and quality assurance practices began to be established around 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 required inspectors.

Statistical quality control (or statistical process control) was developed during this period, utilizing statistical methods to help ensure quality.  The modern concept of quality assurance was introduced during World War II when the inspection and testing of munitions became vital to war efforts.

International Quality Assurance Standards

In 1947, an international federation of organizations known as ISO was founded. The International Organization for Standardization is made up of standards organizations that represent over 100 countries and maintains effective quality assurance system for manufacturing and service industries. 

ISO 9000 is a set of standards first published in 1987 designed to help organizations meet statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as consumer needs, for product quality. 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, and more than one million organizations around the world are certified with ISO 9001.

To be certified, the management of an organization develops goals for quality assurance. These are codified into policies and guidelines specific to its business and manufacturing processes, often with the assistance of a consultant.

These guidelines are implemented by the organization, and these systems are assessed for compliance with ISO 9000 standards. The results of the assessment identify any areas that fall outside of the standards and that the organization needs to address within a given time frame. After standards are met, the organization is certified.