Total Quality Management (abbreviated as TQM) as it is practiced today was developed by Dr. William Deming, a famed management consultant whose work helped transform Japanese manufacturing after World War II.
Although TQM has a lot in common with the Six Sigma methodology, they are not the same. Total Quality Management is focused on ensuring that process standards ensure a great customer experience, while Six Sigma is designed to reduce defects. The practice of TQM is about holding all parties involved in the production process accountable for the quality of the final product or service.
Let’s look at how.
8 Principles of Total Quality Management
Customer Focus – Under TQM, managers have the responsibility to understand and anticipate the needs of the customer. The goal is to exceed customer expectations.
Total Employee Involvement – Managers seek to involve every person at all levels so that they happily work to achieve the organization’s goals.
Process-Centered – Leaders understand that a goal is achieved faster when activities and associated resources are managed as a unified process.
Systems Thinking – Further, managers see interrelated processes as a single system and manage them accordingly.
Strategic and Systematic Approach – The strategic objectives of the organization are not lost with the focus on processes. In fact, TQM leaders seek to align the organization around the strategic objectives.
Continual Improvement – The search for perfection is never-ending. Incremental improvements are of great value, especially when everyone is contributing.
Fact-based Decision Making – Decisions are made based on data and observation, not hunches and assumptions.
Communication – Transparency breeds trust and trust spurs engagement and creativity.
The History of TQM
The root of Total Quality Management goes back further than I realized when I set out to write this post. Some trace the principles and practice of TQM way back to the early 20th century when Frederick Taylor wrote his Principles of Scientific Management, which called for a consistent way of performing tasks and inspecting finished work to stop defective products from getting to the customer. In the 1920s Walter Shewhart developed statistical process controls, could be applied at any point in the production process to predict quality. He developed the control chart commonly used today for managing processes of all types.
During the '20s and '30s, Shewhart was a mentor of the aforementioned, William Deming who developed statistical process control theories that he would eventually use to help the US Census department in the early 1940s. After WWII, Deming’s ideas helped Japan change its reputation for shoddy products into one of unparalleled quality.
Total Quality Management started to pick up steam in the US in the late '70s and early '80s. By 1988 Congress had created the Federal Quality Institute to highlight the need for quality management in business and reward organizations for successful implementations. While TQM began in manufacturing, like it’s subsequent methodologies (ISO, Six Sigma, and others), it was applied effectively to finance, healthcare, and other fields.
While no leader would say that they don’t value quality and aren’t focused on the customer, implementing the principles of TQM is harder than it may seem. There are a few factors that keep organizations from seeing success with quality management.
- It is easy to get focused on improving individual processes and lose sight of how the system operates.
- Some managers are unwilling to give up power and delegate to the extent required for TQM to succeed.
- Organizations may see training in quality as an expense, rather than an investment and fail to commit to it.
- Total Quality Management is a team sport. Friction can occur if the various groups have competing interests or impediments to collaboration.
- Goal alignment is essential for success, yet something that many organizations struggle to achieve.
How TQM Software Helps
To get over these hurdles, many organizations turn to Total Quality Management software for help. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it can make a big difference.
Structures Improvement Processes – The PDSA, developed by Dr. Deming improvement cycle is often used in TQM organizations. Software provides a support platform for every improvement cycle and captures all document, conversations, and other artifacts of improvement.
Provides Workflow – Software can help bridge the gaps between levels of the organization and teams by structuring workflow and providing alerts and notifications. Tasks aren’t missed, and managers can respond promptly to questions or new suggestions for improvement.
Helps with Strategic Alignment – With TQM software goals start at the C-level and then cascade down to front line employees. Every improvement project can be tied to a strategic objective and KPI.
Captures Impact – Some leaders are hesitant to embrace TQM because it can be difficult to calculate an ROI for the approach. Software eliminates that problem by allowing users to calculate the impact of every improvement project over both the short and long term.
Streamlines Communication – We mentioned that communication is a key principle of TQM. An improvement platform ensures that everyone has access to the information they need. Everyone develops the same language and process for talking about improvement.
For further reading on Total Quality Management, we highly recommend Quality Management for Organizational Excellence: Introduction to Total Quality by David L. Goetsch and Stanley Davis.