Total Quality Management

Built on the belief that quality is a matter of conforming to a customer’s requirements

Total quality management (TQM) is the idea that controlling quality is not something that is left exclusively to the “quality controller”, a person who stands at the end of a production line checking final output. It is (or it should be) something that permeates an organisation from the moment its raw materials arrive to the moment its finished products leave.

TQM is a process-oriented system built on the belief that quality is a matter of conforming to a customer’s requirements. These requirements can be measured, and deviations from them can then be prevented by means of process improvements or redesigns.

The European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) said that TQM strategies are characterised by the following:
  • The excellence of all managerial, operational and administrative processes.
  • A culture of continuous improvement in all aspects of the business.
  • An understanding that quality improvement results in cost advantages and better profit potential.
  • The creation of more intensive relationships with customers and suppliers.
  • The involvement of all personnel.
  • Market-oriented organisational practices.

Total quality management was developed by a number of Japanese firms in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was built largely on the teachings of W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, two Americans who had quietly developed the principles in the aftermath of the second world war. With the help of books and articles such as David Garvin’s 1983 description in Harvard Business Review of the way in which TQM and other techniques were putting Japanese companies streets ahead of their foreign competitors, the idea was later reclaimed by the United States and widely adopted by American business.

Europe, which has at times looked left out of this game of American-Japanese ping-pong, has also made occasional claims to be the fount of total quality. Raymond Levy, chairman of Renault, a French car company, said in the early 1990s:

Quality is representative of a culture which we Europeans have no reason to let others monopolise. The Europe of Descartes; the Europe of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment; the Europe of the industrial and technological revolution of the last two centuries holds within itself all the elements of method and exactitude conveyed by the term “total quality”.

In the late 1990s there was something of a backlash against the implications of TQM, especially in the United States. Florida Power & Light, for example, the first American company to win the prestigious Deming Prize for quality management, cut its TQM programme because of its employees’ complaints about the excessive amount of paperwork that it required. Douglas Aircraft, a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas, cut its programme to next to nothing. Newsweek colourfully described the aircraft company’s action: “At Douglas, TQM appeared to be just one more hothouse Japanese flower never meant to grow on rocky American ground.”