Total Quality Management (TQM)

Delivering Quality at Every Level

© iStockphoto/LDF

Stop for a second, and think of all the pieces that need to come together to deliver a product to your customer.

From the time your customer considers purchasing your product to the delivery of that product, how many processing points are there? Dozens? Hundreds? An order is placed. A requisition is made. Raw materials are ordered. Items are manufactured. Finished goods are inspected. A delivery method is set. Customer contact is made.

All of these activities impact the quality of what you deliver, and a mistake or miscalculation in one small area can affect everything else.

Poor quality is often the result of poorly planned and executed processes. With the correct systems in place to create and check quality, you have a much higher chance of getting the order right and satisfying your customer.

So, if all the activities we mentioned contribute to the final product or service, that means that virtually every department is involved – not just manufacturing or operations, but also human resources, accounting, marketing, and so on.

This is the essence of Total Quality Management (TQM). There's no one "right" definition or explanation of TQM, but it's essentially a management philosophy in which everyone in the organization strives to continuously improve customer satisfaction. The emphasis is on planned improvement – a continuous cycle of improvements and feedback that provides the best possible products and services.

TQM originated in Japan. Most people credit W. Edwards Deming, a statistician who lectured on statistical process control in Japan after World War II, with importing the idea to the U.S. Deming outlined 14 points of TQM, and the philosophy took off from there. Other notable TQM personalities include Kaoru Ishikawa, Philip Crosby, and Joseph Juran.

TQM and a Culture of Quality

For TQM to work, everyone in the organization has to be involved. It takes a "culture of quality," where people are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and the product. The Japanese have a name for this type of approach: kaizen. Kaizen is the idea that people at all levels of the organization are responsible for finding inefficiencies and suggesting improvements.

With a TQM approach, there are three main opportunities to make improvements and increase efficiency:

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