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Just Exactly What Is Total Quality Management

February 1, 1993
Related Topics: Total Quality Management, Featured Article
Total quality management (TQM) has become the corporate catchphrase of the 1990s. But like many other oft-repeated expressions, its meaning may not be entirely clear, even to those individuals involved in quality improvement programs. In seeking a definition of this expression, Personnel Journal went to James F. Riley Jr., senior vice president of the Juran Institute Inc., in Wilton, Connecticut. The Juran Institute is a source of training and consulting for TQM, and its consultants have worked with thousands of organizations worldwide.

Q. What's TQM?
TQM is a transformation in the way an organization manages. It involves focusing management's energies on the continuous improvement of all operations, functions, and above all, processes of work. Quality is really nothing more, therefore, than meeting customer needs. To do this, you must improve work processes, because it's the result of these processes that the customer cares about.

Q. Can you give me an example of a work process?
Take product development. New products begin in the research department with a concept. This progresses to the engineering department for the development of a prototype, which they then make ready for manufacturing. The manufacturing function designs a way to produce the product affordably, quickly and within production schedules. The product then must become ready to enter the marketplace, which involves the marketing, sales and delivery functions. To achieve quality, you have to improve work performance at each stage of this process so that you can make a product that's free of defects, meets customer needs and is manufactured in the least possible time, at the least possible cost. By necessity, TQM emphasizes teamwork because: Processes cut through an organization; and no one function, employee or manager owns the entire process.

Q. What specific issues does TQM address best?
Total quality addresses, among other things, customer satisfaction, revenue, market share, productivity, cost and cycle time. The way to increase customer satisfaction and reduce cost and cycle time is by removing defects. You increase revenue and market share by improving products and enhancing salability. When you re-engineer processes, you improve productivity.

Q. Why do so many quality improvement programs fail?
The principle reasons are: 1) Upper management support and commitment were never obtained; 2) TQM started, and instability developed in upper management, such as a key retirement or resignation; 3) The organization tried to do too much too quickly without taking the time to learn as it went along; and 4) The organization didn't provide the effort with a full measure of support, such as educating and training employees, seeking skilled advisors, dedicating financial resources to the effort and recognizing that TQM is a continuous commitment, not a program.

Q. How should an organization implement TQM?
First, revisit the mission values and vision statement. Answer these questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • What principles guide us?
  • What do we intend to become?

Next, conduct an assessment of quality in the organization. Review your standing in the marketplace and the needs, wants and expectations of your customers. Calculate the cost of poor quality to your company and assess employee attitudes toward existing quality efforts. Develop a quality action plan next. The quality action plan should define your short- and long-term goals and list individual responsibilities. Then develop support for the TQM system. This involves communicating the effort, reviewing your recognition-and-reward systems, and determining education and training needs. Finally, prioritize the issues, and determine which programs should be the first to implement. Don't try to cure world hunger all at once—take on bite-size projects that can teach you something.

Personnel Journal, February 1993, Vol. 72, No. 2, p. 32.

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