An Introduction To Total Quality Management

In this day and age, companies must compete on the global market for customers who expect nothing less than perfection. A modern management concept such as Total Quality Management (TQM) helps improve the quality of products and services to achieve maximum customer satisfaction.

The concept of TQM is most applicable to companies and organizations that are heavily department-focused. In such organizations, the left hand often doesn't know what the right hand is doing, as the saying goes, and inter-department struggles negatively affect how customers’ needs and wants are met.  

With TQM, everyone in the company or organization is responsible for quality assurance and problem prevention. This management concept was originally applied solely to manufacturing, but it has since been successfully implemented by a number of businesses across many industries.

TQM uses business strategy, data and communication across different business units to build quality into the culture and processes of the organization. TQM proponents view organizations as living organisms that rely on a constant flow of information. Effective communication boosts employee morale, increases productivity, and is a key component of quality assurance.

History of Total Quality Management

Even though the exact origin of the Total Quality Management concept is uncertain, most experts in the field attribute the invention of the term to Armand V. Feigenbaum, an American quality control expert and businessman, and his influential book titled, Total Quality Control, released in 1961. Other important figures involved in the development of TQM include Kaoru Ishikawa, Walter A. Shewhart, W. Edwards Deming, and Joseph M. Juran.

Characteristics of Total Quality Management

To this day, there is no widely agreed upon set of TQM characteristics. Still, most practical implementations of Total Quality Management involve the following principles:

  • Total involvement of employees: The most fundamental characteristic of TQM is total employee involvement. According to the proponents of this management method, only empowered and fearless employees who can stand behind their work and understand how the organization operates as a whole can constantly meet all target goals and improve their efficiency. Adopting a culture of continuous improvement and team empowerment can help achieve employee involvement.
  • Customer focus: TQM sees the end customer as the sole measure of quality and success. Any effort, including employee training, infrastructure upgrades, software investments, or product releases, is worthwhile only if it benefits customers.
  • Continual improvement: Organizations who practice TQM believe that it is possible and necessary to improve continually. Merely maintaining the same level of quality and customer satisfaction is not enough to outperform competition. Top management has the responsibility for quality improvement by promoting a culture of innovation and creativity so that the business can meet customers’ expectations and remain competitive.
  • Process approach: Everything a business does can be broken down into a series of steps, which can be either internal or external to the business. Each step can be analyzed, measured and improved upon. When activities and resources are managed and controlled as a process, desired results can be achieved. As such, all employees are responsible for coming up with ways of executing the processes they are involved in effectively.
  • System Approach To Management: All interrelated processes should be managed as a system. This will ensure that improvement efforts are focused on key processes and also ensure that these processes are integrated in a way that will achieve the desired results. 
  • Fact-based decisions: TQM requires that organizations collect data that can be analyzed to improve decision-making, reach agreements on key business directions and make predictions based on historical data.
  • Leadership/strategy definition: Strategy directed at achieving the organization’s vision, objectives and goals needs to be defined through the development of a strategic plan with quality as a key component. Leadership is a key attribute here since it establishes the direction of the organization which will lead to the achievement of business objectives. TQM advocates that leaders create an enabling environment for achieving business objectives.
  • Mutually beneficial relationship with suppliers: An organization depends on its suppliers and this relationship should be strengthened to ensure that a mutually beneficial relationship is sustained.

What has been your experience with TQM?