Delivering quality products saves companies time and money while improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. When businesses consistently deliver quality products, they significantly increase the likelihood that customers will make repeat purchases and recommend their products to others. As a result, they enjoy accelerated growth and robust profits.
To establish a reputation for excellence, most businesses rely on quality assurance. Quality assurance means finding – and correcting – issues before products are launched, eliminating the risk of costly errors, security breaches, and other problems.
In the following guide, we’ll explain what quality assurance is and explore several of the most popular quality assurance methodologies. We’ll also provide tips for how project managers can incorporate quality assurance processes into their project plans.
What is Quality Assurance?
Quality assurance in project management is a clear, systematic process for identifying product defects and ensuring projects meet customer expectations. Unlike quality control, which involves inspecting finished products for flaws, quality assurance prevents problems by testing products during development. Having a QA plan will ensure your team can produce high-quality deliverables.
In addition to providing confidence that products will be defect-free, quality assurance helps businesses improve their operations. Many of the steps used during quality assurance can be applied to make the production process more accurate and efficient, speeding up the development cycle and ultimately making the company more competitive.
Though quality assurance is often associated with software development, it’s actually applied across many fields, including e-commerce, finance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and the insurance industry, among others. As such, quality assurance professionals are in high demand and can choose to specialize in the sector of their choice or enjoy a broad range of career opportunities.
What Are the Three Main Quality Assurance Methodologies?
The three primary types of quality assurance methods are Statistical Process Control (SPC), Failure Testing, and Total Quality Management (TQM). Which method a company uses will depend on the type of products they’re developing, their organization’s structure, and the project requirements. However, all three methods help to ensure the delivery of high-quality products by generating reliable data, providing documentation, and allowing teams to rapidly pinpoint problems during development.
Statistical Process Control (SPC)
Statistical Process Control is the oldest standardized quality assurance process, having been pioneered by William A. Shewhart, an employee of Bell Laboratories, in the 1920s. Initially, SPC was used to efficiently monitor for quality in factories producing ammunition and weapons during WWII. Today, it’s used in the development of many products, particularly those involving chemistry and technology.
SPC monitors the progress of projects through charts and data and utilizes a QA approach based on the scientific method. Guided by predetermined goals, SPC is implemented via the following steps:
Statistical Data Analysis: Data is collected and analyzed to reveal trends, patterns, and variations in work processes.
Continuous Monitoring: SPC is designed to collect data throughout a project’s lifecycle and continuously monitor for defects. Generally, SPC looks for significant, unexpected variations in work processes.
Process Capability: SPC measures how well current processes are meeting client goals and identifies any issues preventing adequate performance.
Root Cause Analysis: SPC isolates the root cause of any defects present.
Continuous Improvement: Processes are systematically improved to eliminate defects and prevent them from recurring.
In practice, SPC may be used in manufacturing to detect when excessive product waste is being produced (e.g., too much flashing during injection moulding) and fine-tune processes to use materials more efficiently. Or, in IT, a project manager may use data from previous iterations to help determine a budget, timeline, and the necessary resources for a software development project. Then, the software is regularly monitored and tested during development to ensure consistent quality.
Failure testing is a common quality assurance method for testing physical and virtual products by subjecting them to extreme operating conditions. This process reveals design or coding flaws while generating data that can be used to ensure systems are scalable, where applicable. In software development, for example, system performance may be assessed under high volumes of traffic (or user requests) to identify potential security or stability issues.
Some of the most common types of failure testing include:
Stress testing: When testing a physical product (such as computer hardware), the term “stress testing” is used to describe a test wherein the product is subjected to extreme environmental conditions, such as high heat or humidity. Alternatively, stress testing can refer to testing software under extreme loads (for example, by emulating a DDoS attack) to identify the upper limits of its performance.
Load testing: Unlike stress testing, load testing is used to assess how a product behaves under expected loads. In software development, load testing ensures the virtual product will meet user expectations under normal operating conditions (e.g., that it doesn’t slow down under typical traffic levels).
Usability testing: Usability testing is performed from the perspective of the user rather than the developer. It verifies that a product’s target audience will find the product easy and enjoyable to use. Generally, a sample group of users is recruited to test the product, then data is gathered about their experiences and final reports are created.
Failure testing is crucial to catching potentially serious risks early in development. Identifying security weaknesses in software, for example, can protect users’ sensitive information in the event of malicious activity. Failure testing can also prevent costly downtime by ensuring software can handle unusual demands and periods of heavy usage.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
Total quality management (TQM) is a type of quality assurance where employees from multiple branches of an organization participate in product evaluation. Instead of QA being the responsibility of a dedicated team of QA professionals, developers, project managers, software testers, and customer service representatives contribute to the testing process. Taking this approach ensures that quality control is integrated into every aspect of project management, which leads to quicker, more accurate detection of defects.
Total quality management is guided by eight fundamental principles, as outlined below:
1. Customer Focus
The first priority of TQM is ensuring that the product meets customer expectations. The product must be functional, usable, and valuable from the customer's perspective.
2. Employee Involvement
For TQM to be effective, all employees must feel empowered to deliver feedback on products and services. Project managers are responsible for communicating the quality requirements clearly and effectively with employees to facilitate product testing and data collection.
3. Integrated System
Each department within an organization should be interconnected, and a culture of collaboration should be encouraged. Under the TQM approach, all employees will understand the company’s goals, processes, and policies. They will also be encouraged to learn new skills and advance.
4. Process-Oriented Approach
Quality control processes are performed at each stage of a product’s development to reduce the risk of defects entering production. Moreover, these processes are continually refined and improved to maximize efficiency and accuracy.
5. Strategic Planning
QA processes are guided by an overarching management strategy that ensures all employees understand their role in product evaluation. Strategic planning also confirms that resources are allocated appropriately for each product testing phase.
6. Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is central to TQM. This principle states that quality assurance should be an ongoing process that continues throughout a product’s lifecycle. As long as a product is being produced, employees will continuously monitor it for defects and look for opportunities to improve it to ensure quality standards.
7. Fact-Based Decision-Making
TQM relies heavily on data collection and documentation to guide planning and decision-making. Data is typically gathered from multiple sources (e.g. sales, customer retention rates, and profits) to support more informed decisions.
8. Relationship Management
Relationships are integral to the success of TQM. Project managers must communicate effectively with employees, strive to boost morale, and find ways to motivate and empower employees at all levels of the organization. Customer relationships are also prioritized through excellent customer service, loyalty programs, and personalization.
TQM often builds a better and more innovative company culture. Other benefits of TQM include greater adaptability and productivity, cost reductions, more targeted products and services, and improved long-term customer loyalty.
How to Implement Quality Assurance into Project Management
In today’s fast-paced, competitive marketplace, quality assurance isn’t optional. In almost all industries, it’s crucial to helping organizations meet their objectives, maintain a positive brand image, and adapt quickly to changing conditions. As such, the demand for skilled QA testers is projected to increase at least 25% by 2031, and having a thorough understanding of QA methods and processes is a key requirement for project managers.
Though the implementation of quality assurance varies based on which approach an organization is using, most QA strategies involve the following steps:
1. Define quality standards.
Before implementing a QA strategy, organizations must define the quality objectives for a project. These goals should incorporate customer feedback, industry standards, and best practices. They should also provide a clear, realistic, and measurable path to meeting customer expectations.
2. Create a quality management plan.
Next, project managers must create a plan to track, measure, and document QA processes. They must also ensure the goals for the project align with its schedule and budget, allocate resources, and assign roles and responsibilities to various employees. During this phase, project managers will typically decide which QA measures, tools, and techniques will be used to verify product quality and provide additional employee training if needed.
To keep projects running smoothly, project managers often use specific organizational strategies, such as the RACI matrix. The RACI matrix outlines who is Responsible and Accountable for various duties and who must be Consulted or Informed during different stages of the project. Additionally, it maps out all the tasks, steps, roles, and milestones required to complete a project.
Most quality assurance plans also include a risk management strategy. Risk management is a process wherein project managers identify uncertainties that may affect the project and plan how to respond to them. Typically, risk assessments are based on data from Root Cause Analyses performed during similar projects in the past.
3. Perform continuous monitoring and control.
As the project advances, everyone involved in the QA process should monitor its progress using predetermined metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). How this step is executed depends on the QA method being used; for example, if an organization is using Statistical Process Control, they will analyze project data to detect unexpected variations in performance. If the organization is using Total Quality Management, employees will collect and report data informing the company of any defects in its products or processes.
4. Implement root cause analysis and improvement.
Project managers must work with the QA team to isolate the root cause of any quality issues encountered during development and then apply this information to prevent similar issues from arising again. Root cause analysis defines the problem, examines why it happened, and suggests solutions. Once corrective action has been taken, further testing is performed to verify that the issue has been resolved. Ideally, project managers should foster an organizational culture of continuous improvement, where lessons learned from successes and failures are applied to future projects and iterations. If using the TQM approach, for example, employees will monitor how customers respond to changes and use their feedback to determine if further improvements are needed.
5. Create documentation and communicate with stakeholders.
Throughout the QA process, documentation detailing challenges, problems, and solutions should be created and shared with stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers, and investors). Keeping stakeholders informed builds trust and manages expectations; in organizations using TQM, it also empowers employees by demonstrating how their input contributed to the QA process.
Regardless of the QA method used, quality assurance is crucial to success in project management. A detailed, structured QA process saves time and money, reduces risks, and elevates product quality – ensuring each project exceeds customer expectations. With on going commitment to quality, implementing a QA strategy builds customer confidence and creates an organizational culture where employees feel valued, engaged, and inspired.
As technology advances, QA will drive future innovations while making products safer, more reliable, and more affordable. To discover if a career in quality testing is right for you, try one of the many quality assurance courses offered by BusyQA. Our courses are taught by experienced instructors and provide QA certification, allowing students to quickly enter this dynamic, exciting field.