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A Total Guide to Total Quality Management (TQM)

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In this total guide to total quality management (TQM), we’ll learn everything there is to know about this business methodology, including its definition, key concepts, benefits, and use cases.

A Total Guide to Total Quality Management (TQM)

Here is a quick overview of total quality management (TQM):


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Definition of TQM

The definition of TQM focuses on improving the quality of an organization’s products, goods, and services.

It is a process improvement methodology built around concepts such as continuous improvement and error reduction. Like similar methodologies, such as Six Sigma and lean manufacturing, TQM is designed to improve business performance by addressing quality issues within business processes. 

TQM can be applied to many areas of business, generating quality improvements and performance gains wherever it is used.

TQM: Key Concepts

The creator of TQM, W. Edwards Deming, included 14 principles in his management philosophy. These principles are the same ones upon which TQM was based.

These principles include:

  • Creating constancy of purpose
  • Adopting the new philosophy
  • Not depending on inspections for quality
  • Reducing costs by collaborating with suppliers
  • Continuous improvement
  • Employee training
  • Leadership training
  • Build trust and innovate, while reducing fear
  • Break down silos
  • Avoid slogans
  • Avoid quotas
  • Remove annual rates and merit systems
  • Create self-improvement programs
  • Implement total participation for transformation efforts

Key tenets of this method revolve around:

  • Customer-centrism
  • Employee involvement
  • A focus on processes
  • Continual improvement
  • Decision-making based upon facts
  • Horizontal integration of business systems

All of these concepts are interrelated and form a complete system that is continually applied throughout the organization. When used appropriately, TQM can generate significant improvements over time.

Use Cases and Benefits of TQM

TQM is a system that can be applied across an organization, as mentioned.

Using this system properly can generate a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Better customer experiences
  • Improved profit margins
  • Higher quality products and services
  • Fewer mistakes 
  • Greater efficiency
  • A better workplace culture
  • Increased alignment among business units

The benefits derived will depend on several other factors, such as where TQM is applied and how fully the system is adopted.

Also, since TQM focuses on improving quality by reducing errors, it will have different effects on the organization than improvement methodologies that have different emphases.

History of TQM

W. Edward Deming, as mentioned above, is often credited as one of the forefathers of TQM. He was heavily involved in the restoration of the Japanese economy after World War II. While there, he applied the core ideas behind TQM, which then influenced many japanese manufacturers.

The influences and roots of TQM, however can be traced back further, to:

  • Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments in the 1920s and 1930s, which demonstrated that employee involvement can improve productivity
  • The application of statistical methods to workplace and quality improvement
  • Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Theory X and Y leadership models, developed in the 1960s
  • Total Quality Control, a philosophy used by Japan in the 1970s
  • Total Quality Management, which was coined by the US Naval Air Systems

In the 1990s and beyond, TQM continued to evolve and has influenced a number of other similar quality control methods, such as Six Sigma and lean.

Drawbacks of TQM

While TQM has been one of the most popular quality management and process improvement systems of the past several decades, it does have drawbacks.

When using this methodology, here are a few points to consider:

  • The business world is evolving rapidly and TQM is not up-to-date with the latest business practices and methods
  • TQM focuses on quality management, so it is not designed to address and improve other areas of the business
  • TQM has continued to evolve and today, there are other methods that are widely favored (see below)

TQM can and does generate value for a business. That being said, since there are more modern systems that have been built upon the same principles, those interested in learning more may wish to start with the more modern systems.

Alternatives to TQM

A few of the most well-known alternatives to TQM include:

  • Lean, a manufacturing methodology aimed at reducing waste within processes
  • Six Sigma, a method designed to reduce variability and errors in business processes
  • Lean Six Sigma, a method that combines both of the above methods into a single approach
  • CMMI, a maturity model designed to improve business process maturity across an organization

These three are all examples of methodologies that can be used to improve business processes, management, organizational performance, and more. Some have categorized them as quality management systems (QMSs), multi-functional business methods aimed at improving quality across the organization. Others use the term quality improvement system or business process improvement (BPI).

Regardless of how these systems are categorized, they can all have a positive effect on the entire business. What is most important is to find and use a complementary set of improvement methodologies that work together to enhance business performance.

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