Have you heard the story where someone had ordered an Apple iPhone and received a half-eaten red apple instead? That’s a sure way to tell something’s really wrong with the quality of the product! Though, to be fair, both the apple and the intended iPhone lack a headphone jack input. So there, you have something in common between the two.
This outrageous story is often not that far from the experience many consumers, both the aam admi as well as B2B consumers feel when handed a subpar product equivalent to a lemon…or apple or any fruit of the season. Such underperforming products are the result of a crucial lack of quality check.
To a manufacturing process, going back many centuries even, quality checks and assurances are as integral to the product as are its nuts and bolts. Ever since the dawn of the industrial age, this quality checking has gradually segregated into a separate department, or personnel, whose sole responsibility is to ensure the consistency of the product subject to a set of standards. Thus, the need of businesses to hire personnel to fill roles like Quality Assurance Analysts, Quality Inspectors, Quality Assurance Managers, and more on similar lines but different hierarchical posts.
In this article, we will be talking about what these role-fillers do. How do they bring justice to their presence policing the actions of the various industries? What one needs to do to embark on a Quality Assurance career and what do their job prospects look like. Let’s explore.
What is Quality Assurance?
Quality Assurance, or QA in short, is the hallmark of a responsible business which employs a series of measures to ensure that the business product is consistent. It is a preventive process introduced through the process to recognize defects and flaws. That is, the product meets its functional specifications within the set developmental processes.
The product should meet the quality requirements over repeated use, under stress conditions, is not defective, and has been vouched to perform accurately within its usable control limits. All this effective usability needs to be fulfilled keeping all process constraints in mind. If there needs to be alterations to the overall process or steps, QA gets involved in identifying the limitations and helps aid the improvements.
Quality Assurance is widely used in manufacturing as well as non-manufacturing industries like IT and Software Development. There are various processes employed depending on the kind of business, company, and management. All truly intended to uphold the quality and reputation of the company to its product’s end-users.
Credibility brings loyalty and is just as important to business competition as is the design, development, production, and other stages of the process.
In fact, company wide QA seeks to enhance the quality of every part of the company – its employees, their skills, training, process stages and equipment, and even the product development. All, so any lemon is detected well before it is released for use by consumers.
Quality Control, which is closely related, is a reactive process by which product defects are detected and following improvements are established. Practically speaking, though different, both Quality Assurance and Quality Control are aimed at providing reliable products.
Their approaches are only subtly different in that QA tends to identify where quality may be compromised while QC verifies that quality is met. For the sake of this article, we will use them interchangeably. However, they may be executed at different points in the manufacturing process.
Some popular Quality Assurance/Quality Control techniques are listed below.
- Statistical Process Control (SPC): This is a statistical approach (duh!) to monitor the process during the real-time manufacturing process. How is it done usually? One can either monitor certain “test” sections of the product to check if they fall within the specification standard set by the customer. SPC can also be used to monitor the equipment involved for their functional capability within the control limits.
- Failure Testing: Such a quality measure tends to stress the product to enhanced levels of functional parameters. In Software, it would be about testing the product to mis-inputs that may cause failure in its function.
- Total Quality Management (TQM): The intention of every stakeholder is to focus on the process steps, monitoring any variation and thus involving company-wide participation in defining improvements to provide satisfactory products to consumers, within the set desired specifications.
Besides these, there are concepts like Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, quality management systems and standards that fall within the purview of Quality Assurance.
How to become a Quality Assurance Manager?
Basic education requirement is dictated by the industry in which you want to join as a Quality Assurance Analyst or Inspector and then work your way up higher roles in management.
For most entry-level positions, it usually suffices to earn a Bachelor’s in the relevant field plus a certification, if available. Depending on the industry, employers may even seek a higher postgraduate degree like Master’s or even Doctorate in a similar field, to fill the role of QA analysts with a higher responsibility and grade.
It is recommended that interested students seek internship opportunities in the desired industry. For QA Manager positions, work experience is highly recommended. Besides technical knowledge, many employers prefer a business degree background with ample knowledge in the life cycle of product development.
Certifications and Courses
In Software Quality Assurance, you will need a Computer Science or related degree. You can even opt to earn a certification from organizations like the QAI Global Institute’s Certified Associate in Software Quality (CASQ), Certified Software Quality Analyst (CSQA), and more.
Other industries like the Semiconductor Industry may hire Master’s or higher qualified graduates even for an entry-level QA job. While senior roles are usually gained through experience in the field. Organizations like the American Society for Quality (ASQ) also offer certification, training, and quality resources for individuals to expand their skill-set.
For instance, here are a few ASQ Certifications – Software Quality Engineer (CSQE), Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB), Technician (CQT) for quality problem analysis and SPC application training, and more. Read Six Sigma Careers: Qualifications and Certifications
Many universities even offer Bachelor’s or Associate degrees in Quality Assurance that cover specific QA topics like SPC, Manufacturing Materials, Manufacturing Process, Quality Planning, Inspection Methods, etc. In India, for instance, University of Mumbai offers a Certificate in Software Training which covers quality training as well.
The biggest requirement is attention to detail and a keen observation. It is their job to identify that the target product, or the product at various stages of development, is meeting specifications and that the process itself is functioning within its acceptable control limits.
So, their skills require not only to ensure quality through their detective eye, but also identify what improvements need to be activated to prevent waste and loss. Here are some broad skills:
- Good communication and negotiation skills to understand customer requirements and bringing every stakeholder to agree upon the improvements and actions.
- Technically sound to identify root causes of problems. They also need to be familiar with all the details of the process from the beginning to the customer’s end.
- Team-working is essential to help people work together towards common quality goals and leadership skills to inspire the need for the same.
- Statistical skills to identify variations outside common acceptable sources and stop waste before the problem escalates.
- Problem solving skills to work together with engineers and other manufacturing/non-manufacturing personnel to arrive at root cause of defects.
Career Prospects of Quality Assurance Jobs
Instead of covering the whole slew of QA job roles in the various possible industries, let us talk about the widespread Software Quality Assurance Engineers and Tester roles. According to O*Net Online, the median wage of similar such software jobs, as of 2017, stands around $88,000 annual in America.
In India, Software Tester salaries can range anywhere between 3.5 lakh INR to 9 lakh INR, depending on the experience and complexity.
Read Software Quality Assurance (Testing) Careers
As far as career prospects are concerned, it may not be the most glamorous job descriptions out there but certainly has enough meat to sustain its necessity as long as there is a need to produce quality product, which is always.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quality Assurance jobs are likely to see up to 9% growth until 2026. With enough years of experience, Quality Assurance Analysts, Testers, Inspectors, go through a pretty rapid succession into higher posts like Quality Assurance Managers, who in turn can find themselves suitable to opt for senior leadership like in Product Management.
After all, QA personnel are constantly involved in the whole process – starting from raw material suppliers, their quality, the internal steps of development, and finally to the product, as required by the consumers.
QA Managers often also handle advisory roles in hiring as they possess suitable knowledge to understand the quality of human resource required to produce quality product. It is but a short leap from QA to senior management who can use their prior expertise.
So, if quality is something you feel strongly about and are willing to use all your education background, and on-the-job training, to prevent and improve a company’s process and product, you may try answering to job ads for QA/QC positions.
Just make sure you put extra attention to detail on your cover letters and resumes. No point in showing up for an interview and having to explain how you can claim to strive for quality when you can’t detect the coffee stain and typo on your resume!
Good luck spreading goodness around.
Here are some related links.
- List of Career Options and Occupations in India
- Manufacturing Industry in India and Abroad
- 5 Unusual roles in Product Management teams