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The Origins of QA

The concept of quality didn’t start with scientific management. But Taylor elevated the status of QA by demonstrating its significance to organizational performance. Taylor’s principle idea was this: By analyzing the component parts of work, one could determine the most efficient and effective way for those work tasks to be accomplished. So scientific management was the beginning of the modern QA system. Also, Taylorism shaped managerial responsibility to safeguard that the work of employees be done in a set way. Employees too, were—and still are—made responsible for following a prescribed process for completing their work. So Taylorism was the genesis for what we have now come to know and accept as QA, and the associated roles and responsibilities of managers and employees.

Product quality and process control, however, date back thousands of years. The idea of process controls began with the building of the pyramids of Egypt, when a system for quarrying and dressing stone was designed. Later, Greek architecture would surpass Egyptian architecture in the systems it used. Centuries later, the shipbuilding operations in Venice introduced elementary production control and standardization. Following the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the factory system, quality and process control began to take on some of the characteristics we use today.

Specialized labor and quality assurance took a giant leap forward in 1911 with scientific management; it has had a profound influence on management thought and practice ever since. Taylor’s philosophy was one of extreme functional specialization; he recommended having eight functional bosses on the factory floor, one of whom was responsible for product inspection. Taylor’s ideas of process analysis and quality control inspection of the final product are still with us today in many firms. Statistical quality control, the forerunner of today’s TQM or total quality control, had its origins in the mid-1920s in some companies.

During World War II, W Edward Deming and Joseph Juran separately developed the TQM versions we use today. It’s generally accepted that the Japanese owe their post-war product dominance to applying Deming and Juran’s TQM philosophy. United States industry ignored their contributions for 40 years and has only relatively recently converted to statistical quality control. During the 1980s, the concept of “company quality”— with a new focus system management—came to the fore. It came to be accepted that if all departments approached quality with a consistent and committed approach, success was possible from management leading the quality improvement process. As we know, QA isn’t limited to manufacturing; it’s now applied in all forms of business or non-business activity. This includes design, consulting, banking and insurance, computer software development, retailing, investment, transportation, education, and other industries and business activities. The QA industry infuses organizational life in every way, shape, and form.

Despite its omnipotence, what in essence is QA? There are myriad definitions of QA. But in broad terms, QA is perfecting the way things are done to produce quality products and services to meet the needs and expectations of the end-user: the customer. The practice of QA has developed to include progressively more phases of work and will doubtlessly continue to evolve. Anyhow, the execution of QA is the systematic process of monitoring and evaluating the various aspects of work to maximize the potential for advancing and maintaining high standards of quality.

Early twentieth-century industrialists adopted an engineering approach to management. Taylorism called for the careful analysis of tasks and time-and-motion studies in conjunction with piece-rate pay schemes to improve productivity. Adherents of this method searched for the “one best way” to perform a specific task, and introduced standard procedures. Taken to its extreme, scientific management identifies the single best way to perform work-related tasks and activities.

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