A formal quality assurance program not only helps you meet the government's contracting requirements, it also bolsters your position that you have the ability to meet the needs of the government with your product or service.
These days, if you don't have a good, well-documented quality control program in place, you are really limiting your business. We can't emphasize its importance enough, not just in the government market, but in the commercial market as well.
The goal of your quality assurance initiative is to create written procedures that will assure full compliance with all contract requirements. Formal, written documentation provides the government and your other customers better assurance that there will be consistency in the process and that, if a mistake is made, the cause can be traced to a specific spot and then corrected. The government wants the who, what, where, when and how of your quality control, so you need to specify the details: Who is responsible, for what specific function, at what stage of the process, etc.
Begin creating your program by first assessing where you are in your company with regard to quality control. There is a good chance that you already have effective procedures in place, but that they are not formally written. You don't have to reinvent the wheel; just document the way you do your work and then organize the material into a manual or handbook.
Tips on establishing QA procedures
Here are some things to consider as you start planning and developing your own Quality Assurance program -- whether you are looking to set up a full system to fulfill high-level military or international standards or to establish quality standards for a non-complex item.
- As you establish quality assurance procedures and policies, be sure to write them down. This documentation will form the basis of your company's quality assurance manual.
- Review the work rules and quality control policies and procedures that you and/or your employees already follow, but that up to now have just been verbalized. Start writing them down. Also write down any "defect prevention" rules that your company may have.
- Take a fresh look at your operation end to end, and identify every function and activity that affects the quality of your product or services. Look for possible quality trouble spots in every phase of the production, inspection and shipping cycle.
- If you don't already have them, set acceptance/rejection standards, procedures for controlling products that have been accepted/rejected, and a means of using failure information to improve the quality of your product or service.
- Establish procedures to ensure supplier product quality control. Watch purchases to make sure that the people you buy from know and observe your quality requirements, as well as any technical specifications.
- Set up procedures to ensure that any necessary measurement and test equipment is properly calibrated to the proper standard.
- Create procedures to spot defects as early in production as possible; for example, nonconforming material control.
- Decide which records and reports will be required to track all steps of the production, inspection and shipping cycles to identify existing and potential problem areas.
- Assign responsibility for administration and supervision of the various stages of your quality control program.
- Let your government inspector provide some assistance. Contact the office administering your contract and ask for help.
Tips on creating your QA manual
It is easier than you think to create your own quality assurance manual. We can't write it for you, but we can offer some tips:
- Please don't go out and copy a generic manual word for word from "Quality Control for Dummies" or get a manual from your Uncle Ned. It will not work for the government, and, more importantly, it will not work for you. Many community colleges offer courses on quality assurance and show you how to build your own documentation. Plus, the purpose of preparing written procedures and instructions is to establish a quality system that is effective for your company.
- Create your manual in a loose-leaf format so it will be easy to correct and update.
- Organize your manual by process. In other words, create separate sections for each operation, such as materials purchased, manufacturing, inspection, packing and shipping, etc.
- Include a Table of Contents to make it easier for you, your employees, and your customers to find what they need.
- Include an Introduction page briefly describing the purpose of the manual and the person(s) responsible for administering and supervising the QA program. Also clearly state the procedure that must be followed if and when any changes to your quality program and the manual are made. Finally, include the date the manual was prepared or last revised.
- Include any charts, forms, etc. that may be relevant to quality control.
Tools to use
In the Business Tools area is a Sample Quality Assurance Manual that you can use to help develop a QA program for your company.
Remember that the best manual in the world won't do any good unless all your employees, not just those responsible for quality assurance, know that producing quality products is your company's prime goal.