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Quality Assurance – A Means to an End (Part I)

Axiom on Quality Assurance

“Quality is achieved only through diligent process surveillance”

This article is the first of two parts which are intended to introduce and define Quality Assurance (QA) and describe some of the many activities that QA is involved with in support of software and systems engineering requirements. It will also describe important process improvement initiatives such as the Software Engineering Institute’s (SEI) Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2015 Standard within AlphaInsight.  While the main focus of this article is to educate us about what QA is, we will also briefly describe what QA is not.

QA is a planned and systematic approach to the evaluation of, the quality of, and adherence to product standards, processes, and procedures. Quality Assurance includes the process of assuring that standards and procedures are established and are followed throughout the software and systems engineering developmental and/or hardware life cycle.  It is important to understand that QA does not write the standards or establish the processes and procedures used in the process.  Compliance with standards, processes, and procedures is evaluated through process monitoring, product evaluation, and audits.  Control processes include QA approval points, where a QA audit is conducted.

A project team uses standards and established procedures since these provide the framework from which the product evolves.  Standards are the established criteria to which the products are compared and procedures are the established criteria to which the development and control processes are compared. Both are critical to the developmental process because they establish the prescribed methods for developing the software or systems engineering product.  The QA role is to ensure their existence and adequacy. Proper documentation of standards and procedures is necessary since the QA activities of process monitoring, product evaluation, and auditing rely upon unequivocal definitions to measure project compliance. Product evaluation is a QA activity that assures standards are being followed, while process monitoring ensures that appropriate steps to carry out the process are being followed.