Position titles in the quality field can be confusing. Two career areas that involve different activities but are often thought of as interchangeable are quality control -- observing and reacting -- and quality assurance -- planning and development to prevent quality problems after production. Quality management is a much broader career choice, encompassing quality control, quality assurance and other activities.
QA Managers and Test Managers
Quality assurance (QA) managers in manufacturing work with product and process engineering teams to develop plans for tests and inspections needed to control product quality when mass production begins. Adding the word "test" to this manager's title changes its perspective somewhat. The QA test manager job title is most commonly used in the software development industry. These managers work closely with project teams to establish strategies for testing throughout each development stage. The goal of QA testing is to validate the software prior to releasing it for beta testing. The manager ensures staff members developing and performing test plans are competent,and oversees all testing activities.
Think of quality management as an umbrella, with quality assurance representing one rib. The umbrella enables effective processes that keep customers happy by supplying good products, and efficiencies that keep stockholders happy by maximizing profits. Other ribs in the umbrella include quality control, analysis, planning and improvement. While quality assurance happens up front, before a product is released to the market, quality control provides for methods to validate ongoing product and process quality after production is in full swing. Analysis, planning and improvement are strategic activities performed to make sure every process needed to bring a product from development stages through to final delivery and beyond -- including warranty and customer complaint processes -- are as effective and efficient as possible.
Quality Management Manager
A quality management (QM) manager is responsible for the full umbrella. This manager needs both technical and business savvy. The QM manager works with business stakeholders to ensure processes deliver a sound return on the investment associated with all the resources needed to keep the umbrella functioning. When processes are inefficient, operational costs rise and profitability falls. When processes are ineffective, additional costs are incurred to fix or scrap bad parts, and to address customer dissatisfaction.
A QA manager should be highly knowledgeable in statistical process control and measurement systems analysis, including reliability and repeatability testing. A QA test manager in the software development industry must have technical skills and experience developing software. A QM manager must have a strong business sense and the ability to see how all processes come together without getting lost in details. As managers, all of these positions also require the ability to hire, lead, assess and manage staff members.
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