Part A: How Understanding of Quality Assurance has changed
Prior to engaging in the course topics, my understanding of quality assurance (QA) was quite rudimentary and to some extent flawed. I was aware of ISO certifications having encountered them at work and even in some institutions of higher learning and consequently believed that the primary goal for QA was to gain certification. With the certification, I thought that the organization would gain some form of status that boosted their brand and standing amongst their competition. While this is true to some extent, it fails to capture the real objectives of quality assurance and their entire scope in business organizations. Quality assurance is not merely a public relations exercise that allows a company to gain stakeholder support and strengthen their brand. I realized through the course topics that it was actually a more inward looking process seeking to improve outcomes through minimizing wastage, increasing efficiency and streamlining operations. Quality assurance has little public relations intent and instead focuses on reducing mistakes and meeting customer expectations. The latter was one of the most important revelations that came out clear at the formative stages of the course. Rather than focusing on perceptions as the primary goal, it was all about meeting the expectations of the clientele who form the most important group of stakeholders for any business.
From the various subtopics covered, it was apparent that consistency is one of the main drivers to the essence of quality assurance in different business enterprises. For instance, one of the most common forms of quality assurance is testing products prior to their release into the market. This is done for electronics, food products and automobiles among others just to ensure that all the products are of the same quality. It is not entirely an issue to do with getting rid of defects but ensuring that the outlook, functionality and ability of products are synchronized across a production chain. In cases where quality assurance involves inspection and regression testing, the goal remains to ensure that the quality is consistent across all products. This consistency is important to harmonize all the experiences with the product in the market and allows the company to draw unified conclusions over current performance. That way, areas of improvement can be unearthed and relevant action taken. Imagine a situation where a company would receive mixed feedback about a single product because of varying quality across the market. It would be impossible to come up with improvement strategies and even claim to have the same product for every customer. Therefore, consistency is one of the major goals of quality assurance and has crosscutting benefits to both the customers and the organization and this came out quite strongly in the middle of the course.
Though at some point it appeared as though quality assurance seeks to create a sense of status quo, it later emerged that improvement is also a great deal of it. The fact that quality assurance seeks to create consistency did not imply that the same level of quality would be maintained throughout. I learnt that quality assurance creates a “culture of quality” which makes it normative for employees and other stakeholders to always uphold certain standards in their service provision. This may translate into improvement of outputs, increased efficiency and less investment on quality assurance processes and systems. With tools like Total Quality Management (TQM), organizations are able to embed quality into their corporate culture and therefore uphold high standards at all levels, improving organizational outcomes in the process. More profoundly, some quality assurance systems call for continuous improvement as part of their structure. They not only require consistency in quality of products and services but also require that any avenues of improvement are always sought. This in the end leads to a constantly improving process albeit in a consistent manner. Examples of such quality assurance systems include the Toyota Production System (TPS) and other lean systems that greatly value continuous improvement.
At the end of the course, my understanding of quality management standards was significant. Attaining ISO certification in the present day is of utmost importance not only for the sake of the credibility of the organization but increasingly as a legal and contractual requirement. I learnt that there are customers who only transact with ISO certified firms while many shareholders would also be ecstatic about their organizations pursuing and attaining ISO certification. It is the best statement that a company can make to its important stakeholders on their commitment to upholding a given standard of service or product delivery. Of significance is the various pillars that make the ISO 9000 group of standards such as evidence based decision making. In an era where shareholders are worried about the actual financial status of their firms, such pillars are an assurance that investments are safe. This is furthered by the fact that an audit is often conducted to confirm compliance prior to certification. Generally, at the end of the course, there was a holistic understanding of such quality management standards and their usefulness in different contexts.
Section B: Lessons on Specific topics and Examples of Application
One of the most interesting aspects of quality assurance that were learned is the role of leadership. It is evident that without leadership support, no quality assurance initiative is able to succeed. The leadership provides resources both tangible and intangible for training, equipping and the general roll out of any quality assurance initiative. For a successful initiative, leadership must also lead by example rather than dictate issues from the sidelines. This is especially important when initiatives like TQM are put in place or various ISO certifications are sought. The employees may find it to be a painful and anxious change to put up with when they transit from their old systems and adhere to new conditions, for instance in readiness for audit. Leaders should be the first to embrace new technologies, update their records and embrace lean systems so as to steer the organization in the desired direction. An equally essential aspect of leadership is to ensure effective and honest communication with the team, which can be achieved in various ways. First, the management must initiate two-way communication where they are able to collect feedback from the employees. More importantly, they should offer accurate information and treat the feedback from the rest of the workforce seriously. This is the only way that everyone would feel onboard with respect to the quality assurance initiatives.
The essence of the workforce in the implementation of any quality assurance initiative also emerged strongly. While most organizations focus on the quality initiatives themselves, they forget that without the input of the people and equipping such groups appropriately there can be no meaningful success. This means that an organization may fail to attain any of the ISO 9000 family of standards simply because of lack of people integration. The standards in themselves do not mean anything without people involvement and basically, the people act as a mediator between business needs and outcomes. This is why implementation of ISO 10018:2012 within the context of any quality management standards is necessary. It is a standard within a standard, with normative applications in the implementation of any ISO 9000 standards. They also have applications in non-quality assurance scenarios, but the gist of it is that they are needed to ensure that people are sufficiently involved in organizational change processes especially those relating to improvement. As proper application, all organizations must ensure that they train, equip and motivate their workforce if they are to actualize any strategy whether related to quality assurance or not. This is because a key component of people involvement is competence, without which they are unable to play leading roles in the improvement or change processes.
Quality assurance has got to do with setting clear objectives and milestones. This is carried out by the leadership of the entire organization or the quality assurance team. In cases where international standards are not being sought, organizations must come up with their own standards which define quality at that level. They can then subsequently ensure that they uphold such limits throughout the production with systematic improvements. Setting objectives can be a difficult task for leadership as they are likely to be unrealistic or in some cases way to low. However, there are quite a number of frameworks that can be applied appropriately in practice to address such a problem. For instance, an organization can set up SMART objectives and employ them successfully in their QA framework. Standards mean that there should be measurement at all times and adjustments to meet the desired standards. Measurement in this case can be done through internal and external audits or both, customer satisfaction surveys or gauging financial performance in some cases. I learnt that measurement always plays a big role in quality assurance and is what determines whether standards are met or not. Organizations must therefore ponder on the scales they shall use in measurement from the outset.
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