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Quality Management Review: TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT

July 4, 2008

total quality management (TQM) was a term that became popular in the mid-1980s. It was generally thought that the term originated with the Department of the Navy when it was trying to spread successful application of a set of principles in one location to multiple locations. A formal definition of the term comes from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). They state that:

TQM is a set of systematic activities carried out by the entire organization to effectively and efficiently achieve company objectives so as to provide products and services with a level of quality that satisfies customers, at the appropriate time and price.

There are several key parts of this definition. The first is that TQM was systematic. It involved applying the concepts of continuous improvement throughout the organization. The tools and techniques of TQM were both qualitative and quantitative. The statistical methods for evaluating data (statistical process control, or SPC) were a key component of the system, as were the process mapping and analysis tools such as flowcharts, cause-and-effect diagrams, and so on. The tools were used in the context of PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act, sometimes also referred to as PDSA, or Plan-Do-Study-Act). The planning portion of the methodology held that analysis of certain processes should be performed, data collected, and theories advanced regarding what needed to be changed to deliver improved process performance. The do involved actually implementing the identified process change. The check or study component required evaluation of the change to determine whether it was successful and should be continued, modified, or rejected, and based on this analysis the team or company would act. Instilling the PDCA mindset in the workforce led to more efficient and effective processes; teams would constantly discover the problems in the processes within their functional area and find ways to solve them.

Successfully instilling this mindset into the workforce, however, could not be done without serious support from the management team. This is why the TQM definition stated that the entire organization had to be involved and that the goal was to achieve company objectives. Assigning employees the task of improving their processes required the cooperation and support of management, because process improvement does not come cheap. Management had to be willing not only to allocate resources to support process improvement ideas, but also to carve time out of the work schedule for employees and teams to focus on improvement. This was almost countercultural at the time, at least in the United States. The prior focus of “get it done and out the door as fast as you can” was replaced by “get it done properly so we don’t have to do it again later.”

A third key component of the definition was the customer satisfaction piece. TQM forced companies to think about customers instead of getting too absorbed with meeting internal targets. And the final statement regarding delivering at the appropriate time and price reinforces the notion that the definition of quality was total and process-focused. It would be impossible to deliver quickly, cheaply, and up to customer standards without strong process performance.

A typical TQM team would be assigned a problem, such as how to improve the yield on a certain production line. They would analyze the process and determine that the old machine routinely leaked oil on the pieces as they went by, and this was causing a 6% loss in productivity. The team would investigate the causes of the oil leak and further recognize that it wasn’t the machine, but rather the faulty maintenance practices regarding the machine’s upkeep. They would alter the practices, teach the maintenance people the new methods, and then collect data to substantiate that the 6% productivity gain was in fact realized. They would then put in place whatever safeguards were necessary to ensure that the new level would be maintained, and then they would disband.

This process was typically very formal at first. In other words, teams had to be approved by a management group, their progress carefully monitored by a facilitator, and their results documented for all to see. If the organization continued with TQM implementation over a number of years, the structure would gradually become unnecessary. Employees and teams would naturally be expected to think about process and solve problems using the methodology, without the need for so much formal supervision.

TQM was a popular methodology for several years, but unfortunately it was not always successful. There were multiple reasons for this, including but not limited to the following:
(1) the initial structure needed to support the methodology was often too expensive and complicated to justify;
(2) application of the statistical tools to non-manufacturing applications wasn’t properly implemented;
(3) lack of process knowledge contributed to selecting inappropriate topics for teams; and
(4) poor relationships between management and nonmanagement stifled interest in team participation.

The list is long, but the most relevant issue to the process wave was this: TQM wasn’t set up to deliver order-of-magnitude types of improvement. To borrow a baseball analogy, the focus was on hitting singles versus hitting a home run. Changes that patched holes in existing processes were nice, but the speed of business was accelerating so rapidly that it became clear that a more aggressive type of process improvement would be

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