Quality Assurance vs. Quality Control: QA and QC Explained

David Carty
Reading time: minutes

While there are differences between QC and QA, there’s one common goal

It’s not enough for companies to simply engage in digital transformation. From payments to insurance documentation to retail shopping, everything is digital today. Thus, businesses must deliver exceptional digital experiences that ensure user retention, customer loyalty and a constant revenue stream – this requires a focus on digital quality.

There are two primary ways that organizations approach digital quality: quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). While they have similar intentions, QA and QC take different approaches to ensure customers receive a high-quality product.

Let’s dig into the similarities and differences between QA and QC, starting with some basic definitions for each term.

Quality assurance vs. quality control: a brief breakdown

Quality assurance is a subset of quality management. QA involves a set of activities and procedures occurring during product development that helps ensure a high-quality release. QA includes team members from across the software development organization discussing, planning and executing tests to validate product quality.

QA establishes policies and procedures that affect the entire organization. Additionally, QA requires adherence to standards defined by the business as well as any applicable technical standards, such as ISO 25010, or industry standards, such as HIPAA for healthcare organizations. The organization must establish QA policies to ensure every product release meets these standards.

Here are some of the activities that QA helps define:

  • requirements;

  • design and prototyping;

  • programming and code reviews;

  • version control;

  • continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD);

  • configuration management;

  • test planning and execution;

  • release management;

  • deployment and integration;

  • customer acceptance and feedback.

Ultimately, effective QA relies on many moving parts, and it requires diligence and adaptation to meet customer expectations for any product at any given time. What worked yesterday might not work today — that’s why QA must evolve along with product offerings.

Quality control is a subset of QA. In QC, teams ensure that the developed product meets the organization’s quality standards. Defects in a software product, such as UI glitches, design imperfections, accessibility issues or security gaps, can cause irreparable damage to a brand’s reputation. Through a systematic QC process, the organization can correct products to ensure that they meet business requirements and customer expectations.

Digital QC involves a number of tasks, including:

  • identifying product errors or blemishes;

  • testing against quality requirements set forth during planning;

  • ensuring conformance with regulations or industry standards;

  • creating and maintaining test reports;

  • documenting bugs that either must be fixed before product release or can wait until the next iteration;

  • determining areas where quality or the user experience could be improved.

So, what are the similarities and differences between QA and QC? Let’s explore those one by one.

Quality assurance and quality control defined and where they take place in the SDLC.

What are the similarities between quality assurance and quality control?

No business wants to release a shoddy product. Businesses across all verticals prioritize customer experience and loyalty. While the two approaches have differences, don’t think of them as competitors, as in “quality assurance vs. quality control” or as mutually exclusive ideas. QA and QC share many of the same goals and objectives.

Both QC and QA:

Ensure a high-quality product. A business can’t simply release a product and hope for the best. QA helps the business strategize for how it will approach digital quality. QC helps ensure the finished product meets expectations. Both QC and QA play vital roles in putting a good product in the hands of customers and securing revenue for the business.

Use policies and procedures. While QA is more process-oriented than QC, both approaches follow standards set by the organization for securing high quality. QC might involve some exploratory, fringe or UX testing techniques that require some creativity on the part of the tester, but defect detection and remediation must still be recorded and executed in an organized manner.

Mitigate major issues and costs. Defects can be minor inconveniences, or massive, business-threatening disruptions. The earlier you can catch a defect, the cheaper and easier it is to fix the problem. As defects move closer to the customer’s hands, the risk increases by orders of magnitude. QA and QC both strive to reduce costs; the former aims to establish policies for early detection, and the latter strives to catch and fix as many bugs as possible in a developed product.

Involve some cost and time investment. Whether you invest internally in QC and QA teams or turn to a testing partner for help, skimping on digital quality could cost your business more in the long run. Invest in the personnel and tools you need to ensure quality across the organization. While release schedules are tight, it’s important to achieve a high level of test coverage. Don’t rush QA and QC.

Improve how the organization makes products. Feedback loops are a familiar idea for developers. Organizations should attempt continuous learning, becoming more efficient and effective with each iteration. QC and QA provide opportunities for the organization to learn where it could improve in areas like bug detection, test automation, requirements gathering and user experience.

What are the differences between quality assurance and quality control?

Confusion over the two terms is common, and there’s even disagreement over which tasks fall under which category. In discussing the differences between quality assurance and quality control, remember that the latter is part of the former, which explains some of the overlap. Still, there are some general takeaways that distinguish QA vs. QC.

Similarities and differences between QA and QC.

Here are five key differences between QA and QC:

Proactive vs. reactive. QA starts at the very outset of a project, injecting some much-needed guardrails that keep products in scope and make them testable. The goal of QA is to establish a framework to minimize bugs from the beginning, and it even influences how programmers do their work. QA influences how quality will be incorporated and ensured in a product, while QC reacts to the developed product by identifying and either fixing or triaging remaining defects.

When it occurs. As we established, QA occurs throughout the entire software development life cycle (SDLC). QA isn’t a stage in development; it’s a continuous effort to implement, enforce and ensure digital quality. QC, however, can only take place when there is a developed product to test. QC can take place both before and after a product’s initial release.

Process vs. product. One of the primary differentiators in QA vs. QC is where the focus of the work lies. QA primarily focuses on the processes and procedures that improve quality, including training, documentation, monitoring and audits. QC focuses on the product to find defects that remain after development. QC professionals find these issues in a variety of ways, including software testing and beta or canary testing.

Prevent defects, identify defects. Solid development practices — and even quality-forward practices such as test-driven development — can lead to fewer defects making it through to the QC stage, and even fewer reaching customers. QA intends to prevent some defects from ever occurring, through collaboration practices to align teams and methods such as code reviews. Through QC, testers identify and prioritize what defects remain. The emphases are different, but the end goal is the same.

Who does the work. QA is truly an organization-wide effort. If the business side, development side and testing side can’t get together to agree on parameters for software quality, through a framework like Scrum, there will simply be too many defects escaping through to QC. QA helps guide the development of the product so that when it reaches a smaller QC team those individuals will be able to perform their tests with the allotted amount of resources and time.

Maintaining quality from start to finish

While there are elements that divide quality assurance vs. quality control, the two approaches depend on each other to be efficient. Without efficient QA, QC will be inundated with defects, many of which will escape into customers’ hands. Without effective QC, the organization can’t verify that the latest iteration of a product works as intended and is well-received by customers.

QA and QC helps businesses realize a variety of goals that ultimately benefit the business’ bottom line. These two digital quality approaches, when done well, help businesses:

  • create high-quality products;

  • optimize how teams work;

  • improve customer experiences and loyalty;

  • reduce unnecessary costs and wasted efforts;

  • iterate faster and more confidently.

As a global leader in software testing services and solutions, Applause helps our customers every step of the way. Applause can help you establish a strategy for digital quality tailored to your specific geographic and market needs. Applause is unmatched in delivering real-world test results, all within a scope and timeframe you define. Contact us to begin your journey toward better digital quality.

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