Monday, March 29, 2010

Qualitative and Quantitative research - ISO Audits

It occurred to me after my last post that many people might not know the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. In a nutshell:

Quantitative Research - research where the results are all distilled down to numeric quantities. It is usually recommended during the latter phases of a research project. Questions such as "how many people follow the procedure manual while doing this task?"; "how often is this store robbed?"; or "what is the percentage of improvement in depressed people while taking this medication versus a placebo?" are things answered through quantitative research.

Qualitative Research - is research where the results consist of words, descriptions, and images. It is usually recommended during earlier phases of research projects. Questions such as "what procedures are being used in production?"; "who is responsible for security?"; and "what are the side effects of this medication?" require qualitative answers.

The ISO compliance audit is a qualitative research process. Things like percent of damage returns or wasted man-hours are secondary concerns. What is important are things like:

Do the procedures documented in the process manuals accurately depict what is being used on the floor? Some companies create procedures that have little to no resemblance on how the worker actually does the job. Sometimes it's because the workers just don't care, but other times it is because the documented procedure is not adequate, whether it's out of date, an efficiency problem, or safety issue. It's hard to improve something if you aren't documenting what works and what doesn't.

How are data measured, recorded and analyzed? This is something you should ask yourself whenever you read a research document. All the number gathering in the world is meaningless if the numbers are not handled correctly.

Areas of responsibility and accountability. It's not enough to say "Yes, someone is accountable for this." An ISO auditor has to find out who is the person. Is it the QA manager or the production manager? Is it the financial department or procurement?

Feedback flows. How does the company get customer feedback? How can employees give feedback?

And so forth... The ISO system is developed to help companies not only prove their ability to produced quality products, but also put in place processes that help companies improve their performance and stay competitive in changing markets. It is qualitative in nature because you can't compare diverse companies through the use of quantitative data. It's been tried and it was ineffective. However, that's not to say that there is not a quantitative element in ISO certification. You still need a way to track how effective procedures are and what areas need the most work on.

Good researchers start with indepth qualitative research and then do the quantitative research. Anything else is not good research.


holy said...

good article about QA Job...very informative and beneficial for my company...thanks

ISO 9001 Training said...

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