Quality Assurance For Projects, Turnarounds, Maintenance, and Operations
QA is the engine that drives increased profit. QA (Quality Assurance), QC (Quality Control), and CI (Continual Improvement) are conceptually defined in Figure 1 – this definition is a much clearer definition of QA/QC than written ones. QA is responsible for the overall functioning of all work and business processes and focused on the process steps. QC examines the output from each work and business process and ensures the output meets requirements. If there are issues with the output, they are identified and fed into the QA system for investigation and action. CI is the ongoing improvement of processes.
Figure 2 shows the QA/QC relationship where QC is a part of QA. The QA team uses risk management to identify where QC inspections and tests should be implemented, and which processes require quality audits. QC test results feed into QA, are analyzed, and may result in CI.
In many cases, (especially in projects), QA is overlooked and QC is relied on. This can lead to major quality issues, cost overruns, schedule delays, and warranty claims. If an output is identified as deficient, you can only rework, repair, or scrap it. In addition, workers believe output is acceptable if QC does not find any issues; the cause is not addressed, and the issue continues. This is also an issue in maintenance and turnaround QA.
Figure 1. Pictorial definition of QA, QC, and CI.
Figure 2. QC is a key part of QA.
When an issue is identified through an audit, lifecycle cost of quality, or QC, it should be assessed for risk by the QA team. If it has significant risk, then the quality team needs to invest time and resources in making sure it is resolved and does not happen again. Knowledge gained should be forwarded by the QA team to the knowledge management team – a QA consultant can help establish this.
Quality is based on having processes that simplify otherwise complex work. Complex or high-risk work that is not documented in a procedure will often be done incorrectly. Particularly if different people are doing it. The results will not consistently meet requirements, causing an endless cycle of rework and cost/schedule overruns. QA ensures that those processes are developed, implemented, followed, and generating outputs that meet requirements and confirms effectiveness using QC.
What Is A Procedure
Procedures and work instructions are processes that are written down. Written processes are far easier to review, monitor, and improve and are necessary for effective CI. They also support effective training and are an excellent reference for the people performing the work.
Assurance of a quality output comes from following the relevant processes. Only a small percentage of all the work that goes into creating almost anything is ever inspected/tested. It is far more effective to ensure the work is being done correctly than it is to try and inspect/test every facet of an output. A QA approach also helps build worker moral by coaching rather than finding fault.
Quality control is the inspection and testing of output. This is monitored by the QA team to ensure records are maintained and trends are identified. When issues are found, QA evaluates to see if an audit, NCR, root cause, or other investigation is warranted. QA is responsible for the resolution.
Leveraging Quality Principles For Success
Projects, turnarounds, maintenance, and operations teams all benefit when the tasks they are asked to do are clearly laid out (not in too much detail, but enough…). This helps train new people and serves as a refresher for experienced personnel. By integrating new knowledge into procedures and work instructions, tasks become streamlined and safer while profits increase. QA is the engine that makes this happen.
1. What about the ‘Quality Triangle’ of cost, schedule, and quality?
The notion of a quality triangle is based on an incorrect understanding of quality. Quality is not luxury or goodness; it is meeting requirements. If you can’t take the time or can’t afford to meet requirements, then either the requirements are flawed or the project should not be undertaken. The result of a ‘quality triangle’ mindset is outputs that may not work and are potentially unsafe.
2. What is the ‘QC spiral’?
The cost of warranty claims, delayed delivery, and reputation can be significant. In situations where QC is relied on, there are typically no changes to work processes, so the issues persist. The response is often to increase QC. This in turn drives up rework, repair, and scrap costs and may not significantly reduce the number of issues in completed work. If issues in completed work persist, the level of QC may be increased again. The cycle repeats.
3. Why is inspection and testing called Quality Control (QC)?
When quality was getting started many years ago, the production process was prone to equipment wear and failures. QC took measurements of the output, analyzed them statistically, and determined when the equipment needed to be maintained or replaced. In this way, it ‘controlled’ the process.
4. What is the difference between a process and a procedure or work instruction?
A process is a consistent way to perform a task. When it is written down, it becomes a procedure or a work instruction. Procedures are typically higher-level documents that provide guidance to an experienced worker while work instructions provide detailed guidance suitable for someone new to a task. If a task needs consistency, write it down.
5. What is Quality Assurance (QA)?
QA is the auditing, investigating of issues, and assessment of risk when process issues occur. Following the process is the only assurance of quality – it is expensive and too many things are missed when you rely on QC. QA works to support and improve work processes by streamlining them and improving their reliability. In some instances, aspects of QA have been branded and commercialized as six sigma, lean, and other programs.