Total Quality Management (TQM)

Delivering Quality at Every Level

Total Quality Management (TQM) - Delivering Quality at Every Level

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Ensure quality at every level.

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:

  1. External customers – What can you do to make sure your customers are completely satisfied with your product or service?
  2. Internal customers – How can you make sure your suppliers and staff know what they need to deliver so you can produce a quality product?
  3. Business processes – How can you improve the processes themselves, decreasing costs and time spent?


TQM is not limited to manufacturing. TQM is a company-wide philosophy that dictates how business is conducted. It can involve recruiting new staff, motivating current staff, deciding which workers go on which team, or deciding how to restructure your organization. TQM is at the core of everything – guiding you toward a more efficient and effective workplace. Quality products and services are built by quality people who work together in a quality environment.

Principles of TQM

To start building a culture of quality, consider applying these five key management principles within your organization.

1. Use "Plan-Do-Check-Act" (The Deming Cycle)

This is a structured problem solving system based on the scientific method of hypothesize-experiment-evaluate.

  • Plan – Take the lead in making an improvement. Define and analyze the problem, set a goal, map out a process, collect and analyze data, and identify root causes to address.
  • Do – Run a pilot of the proposed solution on a small scale.
  • Check – Review the pilot. Gather data and analyze the results of the proposed solution.
  • Act – Once you're confident that the pilot has been successful, deploy the solution fully.

Read more about the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle here.

2. Empower Your Staff

TQM is more likely to work when every member of the team participates in improvement initiatives. Many times, the best solutions and changes come from the people who work with the process on a daily basis.

  • Provide adequate training for staff, and understand what motivates their performance.
  • Set up systems for high staff participation.
  • Start a system for staff to make suggestions and communicate their ideas.
  • Recognize and reward contributions.
  • Aim for team excellence, not individual performance.
  • Develop cross-functional teams to improve overall understanding of business goals.

3. Apply Statistics in Your Decision Making

TQM is an analytical process. It requires data and results to monitor and evaluate improvement.

  • Collect data on what your customers want and need. Don't guess or use secondhand data.
  • Survey your staff to better understand the pressures and challenges they face.
  • Analyze the inputs and outputs of the process.
  • Use statistical process control (SPC). Create control charts that map a process and identify trends that alert you to problems.
  • Apply other statistical problem solving and decision making tools, where appropriate. See Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Systems Diagrams, and Cause and Effect Diagrams.

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4. Continuously Improve

Look for improvements everywhere, and follow kaizen.

  • Define, achieve, and maintain standards.
  • Continuously measure production and performance.
  • Look at long-term improvements rather than short-term gains.
  • Understand systems, and realize that a problem may have multiple, interdependent causes.
  • Don't just put out fires – work smarter, not harder.
  • Build review processes to prevent mistakes from happening in the first place.
  • Eliminate waste wherever possible.
  • Adopt a zero-defects philosophy – do it right the first time, all the time.

5. Focus on Your Customers

Look at your operations from the perspective of your customers – both internal and external.

  • Build great supplier relationships – create mutually beneficial arrangements, and provide clear instructions and reasonable expectations.
  • Take care of internal customers – provide great supervision, a good working environment, and motivation for maximum performance.
  • Don't sacrifice quality for other measures of success.
  • Define your standards based on customer expectations.
  • Continuously scan customers' needs, and make changes as needed.
  • Solve problems without blaming anyone or denying your own responsibility.


While TQM has been responsible for extraordinary advances in product and service quality, it has now largely been superseded by approaches like Six Sigma. Six Sigma takes TQM to the next level, seeking to achieve a rate of fewer than 3.4 failures for every 1,000,000 opportunities for failure.

Key Points

Following a TQM philosophy can lead your company to deliver high-quality products and services. and create a great working environment to attract and retain staff. But quality doesn't just happen. It takes a large commitment, many hands, and much internal analysis. The end result is a complete organizational system that's constantly improving, growing, and developing. Apply the TQM philosophy and principles in your organization, and watch it become healthier and more productive.

Apply This to Your Life

Start today.

Look at the systems your organization has in place. Together with your team, map out the processes. How do they work? Do you see any gaps? Create systems and processes to fill those gaps.

Analyze your management style. Do you encourage or hinder staff involvement? What can you do differently?

Think about the relationships you have with customers and suppliers. Where are there problems or tensions? What is the cause? How do you communicate? What types of feedback systems are in place? What can you do today to start building stronger bonds?

Take a minute every day to appreciate the people who work for and with you. Recognize their efforts, and work with them to build a great organization.

Remind yourself that quality is key to your business, because a quality company has long-term, quality customers and workers.