EB112 - Quality Control and Assurance © Question:   I am very interested in improving the quality of my company’s services.  However, I'm confused about which method I should use - Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Larry:  Your question is typical of the "confusing" influence that marketing has had on the field of Quality Management.  I recently spoke to a guy who couldn't remember if the title of the "quality person" in his company was Director of Quality "Assurance" or "Control."  Both titles are used freely, and inaccurately, by marketing executives and others who might prefer the word assurance over control or vice versa to appeal to their customers.  Let me quickly add that I'm not uptight about these things; but there are very significant differences.

1.    The objective of Quality Control is taking bad things out of a process. When we audit, inspect, or check for errors, we are controlling the quality of our products or services by searching for things that do not conform to our requirements.  They can then be repaired, converted to some other use, or disposed of as waste.  These methods translate easily into all work venues.

Products or services can benefit greatly from Quality Control, whether it is test-driving a car after its serviced, pulling a defective piece of clothing from the production line, checking the freshness of food at a restaurant, editing a book for errors in grammar, or inspecting a hospital room for cleanliness.

2.    Quality Assurance is a term used to describe the methods for putting good things into a process, so that we can be assured of its reliability and prevent errors.  This concept came from the aerospace industry and reliability engineering.  It was the job of reliability engineers to determine the statistical probability of failure in various components, units, and systems and only use the most reliable ones.  Also, by putting good things into human systems and organizations such as well-researched design requirements, carefully written policies and procedures, the appropriate equipment and supplies, and thorough training, we increase their reliability.

So the path to improving our products or services is not found by choosing either "control" OR "assurance."  As quality managers, we use "Quality Control" AND "Quality Assurance" methods -- so that we can take bad things out AND put good things into our processes.