Definitions of Total Quality Management (TQM) are not as important as what TQM means for the organization. The crux of TQM drives across two fundamental pillars; the meeting (and exceeding) of customer’s expectations and the revitalisation of organizational processes to help improve the former; and empirical proof does exist to show that there is a consistent relationship between performance and good quality management. TQM has been synonymous with Business Excellence for a while now, and both concepts stress on not just the improvement of processes and relationships in an organization, but the consistent, continuous improvement of processes and organizational mechanics to maintain and exceed that quality.
The importance of TQM lies in its ability to contribute towards the success of the organisation by pleasing the customer, delighting the customer and by these, retaining the customer. Customer loyalty, which is argued to be the natural result of a customer-focused organisation, is the premise on which TQM rests. The concept of the internal customer (and the internal supplier) is a new one, which engenders the concept of the quality chain, underscoring and underlining the TQM concept for a shift from external customer focus to internal customer focus.
An important point to note also would be leverage. Quality guru Deming believes that senior management is responsible for 94% of the organisation’s problems; and Crosby and Juran tend to hold similar views though in varying degrees (Oakland, 2009). If we hold this to be true, and if we also agree that employee empowerment is crucial to a successful TQM, then direction and leverage of the organization’s mechanism may well have shifted, and while a superficial assessment of this may emit an automatic agreement, there is a need to understand that employee empowerment does not necessarily mean a loss of direction by senior management. However by this same token, a framework for quality management improvement could well include a revamp of senior management administration and relationships as well as employee empowerment. Hafeez et al (2006) suggests that a framework is useless if there exist no clear measurable achievement targets. Guru Ishikawa believed in the use of statistical tools to measure quality improvements; he also held the view that the internal customer was one of the most intrinsic elements to a successful TQM implementation, a sentiment shared by Oakland (2009).
TQM is a management philosophy that lays emphasis on improvement through innovation. Different writers and TQM thinkers have defined or described improvement to be disparate practices, theories or philosophies. Nowadays TQM engulfs and incorporates standard development, quality control management, the zero-defect principle, lean manufacturing and management, requirement conformance and even Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) and Business Excellence. While it can be maintained that innovation is part of TQM, it is not clear if it is radical or incremental innovation that fully supports TQM, which probably explains why BPR (which is more akin to radical innovation) is considered a different management philosophy from TQM (which tends to support incremental innovation from a continuous improvement perspective). The danger of leaning towards the continuous improvement philosophy as a watchword of TQM is the suggestion that one-off quality improvements and innovations (radical or not) may be considered outside the purview of TQM.
The crux of TQM is based on not one or two concepts but a management of a combination of concepts that include employee empowerment and involvement the satisfaction and delighting of the customer; continuous improvement of business processes; and an organization restructure which facilitates the breakdown of traditional hierarchy and introducing a new structure where information flow is fluid and where the disconnect between senior management and the workforce is mended.
1. Hafeez, K., Malak, N. and Abdelmeguid, H. (2006) A Framework for TQM to Achieve Business Excellence. The Total Quality Management Journal. Vol. 17, No. 9, pp.1213-1229.
2. Oakland, J.S. (2009) TQM: Text with Cases. 3rd ed. Elsevier Ltd.