Quality assurance is a function that exists in the manufacturing and engineering sector as well as the service industry sector and can be described as that part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled.
Quality management, on the other hand, can be described as all those coordinated activities that are required to direct and control an organisation with regard to quality.
In reality, managing for quality is all about recognising who your customers are and what they need from you both now and in the future. It is about identifying potential customers and markets and how they might be persuaded to use your services or product.
And it is about how you deliver your service or product to your customers in accordance with their expectations of quality, delivery and budget. Not forgetting, of course, that you have to make a profit and plan to meet the expectations of tomorrow’s customers.
But, perhaps most importantly, managing for quality is about performance improvement. This means improving the quality, delivery schedule and price of your product or service, improving the systems and processes that deliver them and all the resources that support these processes.
The quality manager will champion, support or lead quality improvement initiatives. He or she is responsible for ensuring that all managers, process owners and supervisors develop and maintain their part of the quality management system.
The quality manager monitors and advises on how the system is performing, which may often include the publication of statistics regarding company performance against set measures.
A key role of the quality manager is that of ensuring that customer requirements and expectations have been accurately identified and that the organisation is meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
This role may also extend to determining how customers’ expectations will change over time and what the organisation needs to do to meet these changing expectations. Additionally he/she will be responsible for supporting the development and maintenance of a customer-focused culture within the organisation.
The quality manager will also probably be involved in developing the quality goals and targets in the organisation’s strategic plan.
A knowledge of statistics is required with general numeracy, coupled with good interpersonal skills. The job function covers all aspects of a work group's or company's operation and requires the ability to assimilate and analyse information.
Job titles may also refer to quality control.
Typical work activities
The work of the quality assurance officer/manager varies according to the context. Within a technical context it is likely to include the following activities:
Own organisation’s quality management system:
- Promoting quality achievement and performance improvement across the organisation
- Maintaining a constant awareness of the business context and company profitability
- Assessing product specifications and customer requirements
- Ensuring compliance with national and international standards
- Considering application of environmental and health and safety standards
- Agreeing in-house standards
- Defining processes and procedures in conjunction with operating staff
- Bringing together staff of different disciplines and driving the group to formulate and agree comprehensive quality procedures
- Working methodically to establish a clearly defined management system that all staff can apply
- Setting up and maintaining controls and documentation
- Supervising technical staff in carrying out tests and checks, often in a laboratory environment
- Ensuring tests and procedures are properly understood, carried out and evaluated and that product modifications are investigated if necessary
- Collating and analysing performance data against defined parameters
- Writing technical and management system reports
- Supervising the programme of internal auditing
- Supervising the programme of continual improvement to product or services
- Pinpointing relevant quality-related training needs
Supply chain management
- Working closely with purchasing staff to establish supplier quality performance criteria and monitor supplier performance
- Assessing suppliers' product specifications and quality plans
- Supervising the programme of supplier audits
- Liaising with other managers and staff, particularly in areas such as design, production and purchasing
- Persuading sometimes experienced and reluctant staff to change their way of working to incorporate quality methods
- Acting as key contact with customers' auditors and being responsible for ensuring the execution of corrective actions and ongoing compliance with customers' specifications
The difference between manufacturing and service organisations is much less distinct than it used to be.
However in a service organisation, public sector or commercial context, work activities may additionally include the following:
- Establishing reasonable standards of service for customers or clients
- Preparing clear explanatory documents such as customers' charters
- Monitoring performance through gathering relevant data and producing statistical reports
- Ensuring compliance with relevant legislation
According to Prospects, the typical starting salary for a quality manager in May 2008 was £18,000-23,000 a year. Quality managers with experience can look to earn £25,000-£43,000 per year, but some larger organisations may employ quality managers at director level with salaries of £50,000-60,000.
If you are already working as a quality manager, you could be eligible for membership of the CQI and the Chartered Quality Professional qualification.
If you are interested in becoming a quality manager, the CQI offers a Diploma in Quality and Certificate in Quality. If you complete the diploma, you will also be eligible to become a full member of the CQI. The CQI also offers short training courses in a wide variety of topics.