Quality assurance VS quality control

The acronyms QA and QC are often inflated and waved as flags. But what's the real difference between quality assurance and quality control? And what's in those subjects for a project manager? 
The following article enables the reader to differentiate two elements which are fundamental for business success.

TOTAL QUALITY. Think  for  a  second to the most comprehensive answer which you can provide to this question: "What is quality?".

Despite there is much talk about quality and all of us, as consumers, can rely on an innate ability to distinguish a first quality service (or product) from a poor quality service, it is likely to respond with quite vague statements to that direct question.
To be fair, it is not so easy to define in few words what quality is. At some extent, even illustrious specialists disagree on which may be the perfect identikit. For sure, there is plenty of suitable definitions in the literature, starting with those can be retrieved from ISO 9001 and ISO 8402, to mention two of the internationally recognized standards available since late half of last century. 
However, as result of the industry development and technological evolution, the market expansion and the increasing competitiveness, it is the basic concept of quality itself which has changed over the years.

Initially associated to the degree of suitability of a good to its purpose, which is a conception mainly related to manufacturing still in vogue today, quality evolved to embrace a broader set of values. Not only rules and methodologies to ensure products or services can meet predefined requirements or standards, but also measures ramified in the whole structure so to build a culture and constitute a mission for every kind of enterprises and organizations.


By introducing the idea of total quality management and quality system,  not only the largest manufacturing companies but also a multitude of diverse organizations such as hospitals, municipal services or even sport associations have been able to redesign or refine their structures and acquire uninformed frameworks to bring the outcome of their activities to the excellence.

In the last 3 decades, we have witnessed a global and swift proliferation of an entire ecosystem around total quality: worldwide certification bodies, accreditation bodies and consultants are assisting hundreds of thousands of organizations to optimize their processes and adopt international standards/norms based on the context such companies operate in. Several methodologies have been developed (Six-Sigma, Lean, CMMI etc) to support correct planning of quality management.
Most important, in embracing the commitment to manage quality in its totality, those organizations are injecting trust in the system, with increased chances to build long-term relationships with stakeholders and compete in a market that, globally, will be more and more rewarding based on the reliability of products and services provided.

In essence, quality is not only about 1) measuring adherence of a product (or a service) to some standards or to a set of stated requirements, or 2) measuring how much a good is free from defects, or 3) assessing how much an organization is capable to adopt a process and exhibit evidences of that. But the whole thing. 
Total quality comes from the top management and it flows across the entire organization as  a corollary of commitments to define, plan and implement policies and responsibilities to ensure whichever project the organization would like to run over, its goal will be fully met.


For analogy, think to what a legislative apparatus does for a country. Individuals in charge to write down and issue laws basically lay the basis to live together peacefully according to a set of rules. A failure to comply with such rules implies penalties, as defined by the set of rules itself. In a business scenario, quality assurance can be defined as the set of processes which in theory enables an organization to avoid failures and non conformance during production.

To be noted:
  • QA aims, upfront to manufacturing, to prevent anomalies and deficiencies.
  • QA consists in a PROACTIVE provision of tools, training and high level documentation which explains what the organization commits on to guarantee the adherence of their products or services to a set of requirements or standards. 
  • QA is complementary to quality control, as it will be outlined in a moment.

From a project management standpoint, QA needs to include also suitable management techniques and project managers can require improvements of quality processes. The document which, at project level, mentions the QA commitments, the processes and the metrics to be used is the "project quality plan" or otherwise said PQP.
The project stakeholders are to be allowed to audit the organization issuing the PQP  anytime during a project.


Again, going for analogy, think to what a doctor does or what judiciary and police do. They investigate about anomalies and problems to detect which is their source. They subsequently take proper actions to remedy or contain the issue identified.

To be noted:

  • While QA domain is "before manufacturing a material or supplying a service", QC's one is the domain of the finished products and delivered services.
  • QC is a REACTIVE process. It consists in the set of inspections, tests and assessments that can be done on a finished product (or on a service) to check if it fits for its purpose, if it is complete or not and finally if it is compliant to specific requirements or it has some defects.

From a project management standpoint, the document which, at project level, represents and details to the stakeholders the plan for the checks is the "quality control plan" or otherwise said QCP.

There is much more to say about quality and QA/QC. The best I can suggest is to learn from your job everyday and make lots of questions.

As usual, comments are welcome.