The terms “Quality Control” (QC) and “Quality Assurance” (QA) frequently create confusion among learning professionals. Because it's common for the same team or person to handle both functions, the terms are often used interchangeably. However, QC and QA are distinctly different terms, each with it's own definition.
Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc. provides a great differentiator in Quality Assurance Is Not Quality Control.
“The difference is that QA is process oriented and QC is product oriented… Quality Assurance makes sure you are doing the right things, the right way. Quality Control makes sure the results of what you've done are what you expected.”
Essentially, Quality Assurance is the process you use to define the quality of your deliverables. QA defines the standards, and outlines the process used to meet those standards. Examples of quality standards in other industries include the FDA's Food Labeling Guide, and the manufacturing industry's ISO Standards.
Quality Assurance is also proactive. It helps prevent errors during the creation and production phases. If guidelines are in place, designers and developers simply need to adhere to them as they create each deliverable. See our style guide below.
Quality Control, on the other hand, is reactive because it evaluates, tests, and edits deliverables after they are drafted or completed. Examples include testing eLearning products to make sure that all of the buttons work, the sound is timed correctly, animations perform as expected, images are clear, and grammar and punctuation all meet standards. Quality Control includes a combination of beta-testing for programming errors, and editing for visual and audio standards.
When both Quality Assurance and Quality Control are in place and working together, you’ve built a strong foundation for another key concept: Quality Improvement. Quality Improvement is the process of setting targets and tracking the results of ongoing efforts to make products and performance better. Adopting QA standards, and using QC to check them, results in less re-work and greater efficiency, which leads to continuous Quality Improvement.
These concepts can be envisioned as part of a Total Quality Cycle, from QA to QC and back again.
The steps in the cycle include (clockwise from the top):
- The QA Team creates standards for process, quality, and style
- Designers and Developers create deliverables, using QA standards as a guide
- A QC Analyst checks deliverables against the QA standards, identifies errors, and routes them back to developers for correction.
- The QC Analyst also reports these errors and bugs to the QA Team, who updates the QA standards to reflect any errors that are not already addressed.
The Learning Coach provides an outline of steps required to create a holistic QA/QC process.
Plan Ahead: Create QA standards in advance, rather than on a tight deadline. If you are creating your standards based solely on one project, at the very last minute, you are more likely to leave something out. Include standards you may not need on your current projects, but may be beneficial in the future.
Be Holistic: Think of all of the standards you must meet, including editorial, appearance, usability, and accuracy. Focusing only on a single aspect will only enhance one area of your learning. If you are unable to advance to the next slide of the learning because you didn’t test usability, it won’t matter whether or not your spelling and grammar are perfect.
Create Checklists: Use standardized checklists to make sure you accurately complete all steps. These lists are helpful even when you think you know all of the steps by heart; it’s good to have something to check your work against. Additionally, checklists allow for easier training when new people join your quality team.
Record Errors: Use a standardized log to note issues that fail a review. These logs enable you to maintain a register of common mistakes and who makes them. Address all issues before final submission. Based on these records, you may decide that a particular team, department, or individual might need additional training.
Here's an example of a QC issue tracking log:
Be Consistent: Use the same standards across all projects. Consistency also prevents favoritism from taking root and prevents any form of discrimination. It provides a standard that everyone must adhere to.
Schedule: Make sure that your project plan allows for enough time for a thorough QC review. Too often, little to no time is scheduled for QC. When the project runs behind for any reason, QC is often the first thing to get cut, which is detrimental to the overall quality of your entire process.
Get QC Training: Unless you have a dedicated QC person or department, make sure your designers and developers have some training on quality expectations. If they don’t know how to use the tools at their disposal, such as spelling and grammar checks, they won’t be used. Also, making sure that refresher courses on basic quality checks are available and easily accessible.
Use Fresh Eyes: Most people cannot see the errors in their own work. Use someone removed from the actual development of the project to do the QC review. If you do not have a dedicated QC department or person, then make sure that you have your developers do QC for each other, rather than each trying to edit their own words.
Document: Write down your QC process, and continue to revise as you find out what works and what doesn’t. Without documentation, it is impossible to evaluate your QA/QC process to make improvements.
Debrief: Use your QC logs to understand where weaknesses are and where you can make improvements in both your processes and in your staff training, [creating the cycle mentioned in regards to Quality Improvement.
Adhering to consistent processes, standards and style guides and producing high quality deliverables will ensure your customers not only remain loyal, but also praise your work to colleagues. Building a solid reputation through the quality of your work results in a high level of trust and happy teams on both sides of the project.