Total Quality Management (TQM): A Quick Guide

Total Quality Management (TQM) works to maintain success by doing what is necessary to deliver satisfaction to customers. Of course, that satisfaction is seeded in employees, processes and the organization at large—long before any product or service reaches its customer.

How does a business or organization make sure that their processes and people are aligned with creating success and customer satisfaction? That’s where total quality management comes in, and like its name says, it’s a method to control and constantly work on improving quality.

Total Quality Management Defined

The key to be successful in any marketplace is to never get complacent. To that end, total quality management is an organization-wide effort to create a constant thrust towards improvement.

Improvement is Key

That improvement can be defined as an employee’s ability to provide on-demand products and services that are of value to their customers, even as their needs change. That’s the “quality” in total quality management. The “total” indicates that the effort is one that touches every inch of every employee of an organization.

Therefore, it’s not merely the production department that follows this lodestar; it also directs sales, marketing, accounting, finance, engineering, design, etc. All departments in an organization are tasked with improving their operations.

Management Makes it Real

That’s the “total” and the “quality” aspect of the TQM methodology, but the “management” is equally as important a component. The management means that executives are obligated to manage this striving for progressive improvements. This can be done through funding, training, choosing the best tools, staffing, goal setting, etc.

As a methodology, however, total quality management has no widely agreed upon approach. It does, though, draw from other tools and techniques, such as project quality control, quality assurance and testing, and others.

Total Quality Management (TQM) Elements

History of Total Quality Management

The roots of total quality management can be traced back to the economic instability of the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. It was at this time that the dominance of North America and Western Europe was challenged by competition from the East, specifically Japan’s skill at making high-quality inexpensive products.

While the origin of the term is not clear, many think it was inspired by the book Total Quality Control by quality control expert and businessman Armand V. Feigenbaum and What Is Total Quality Country? The Japanese Way by the organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa.

The Role of the U.S. Navy

It was the United States Navy that promoted the idea in 1984 when it asked its civilian researchers to offer recommendations on improving its operational effectiveness. The recommendation was to use the teachings of engineer and statistician W. Edwards Deming, which the U.S. Navy called total quality management in 1985.

The methodology was employed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s underground storage tanks program in 1985. The private section soon followed as a way to remain competitive against the growing influence of the Japanese.

Key Concepts in Total Quality Management

The key concepts of total quality management developed by the U.S. Navy include:

  • Quality is defined by what the customers’ requirements are
  • Top-tier management is directly responsible for the improvement in quality
  • It is by systemic analysis, and using that data to improve work processes, that an increase in quality occurs
  • The improvement of quality is a continuous effort and is conducted throughout the entire organization

The U.S. Navy employed certain techniques and tools to achieve those concepts. For example, there’s the Plan Do Check Act or PDCA cycle, which is a four-step management method to control continuous improvement of processes and products.

Related: How to Implement Business Process Improvement

Basically, this is establishing objectives and the processes to deliver them. Then there is doing that plan and checking the data and results to see what works and what doesn’t. Finally, act (also known as adjust), is the part in the cycle when improvements are implemented.

There is also the formation of ad hoc cross-functional teams who are responsible for addressing the immediate process issues. There are also standing cross-functional teams who have similar responsibilities, only those are over the long-term.

The need for an active management participation is critical to the success of any total quality management plan. This is done by creating steering committees to make sure everyone is working together to improve quality.

Tools in Total Quality Management

When it comes to analyzing the quality-related issues, the U.S. Navy employed the seven basic tools of quality. This is a fixed set of graphical techniques identified as being most helpful in troubleshooting quality-related issues. These tools are often used in Six Sigma as well.

The seven tools for TQM are:

  • Check sheet used to collect data in real time
  • Control chart to determine if a process is in a state of control
  • Stratification (or flow or run) chart to sample a group
  • Pareto chart, which is both a bar and line graph that assess the most frequently occurring defects by category
  • Histogram to roughly assess the probability distribution of a given variable by depicting the frequencies of observations occurring in certain ranges of value
  • Cause-and-effect diagram
  • Scatter diagram to display the value for two in a set of data

Elements of Total Quality Management

As the methodology of total quality management moved from the military to the private sector, the key elements that make it up were further codified.

  • Customer Focused: The definition of quality lies with the customer, and all efforts to achieve success in the organization lead to customer satisfaction.
  • Total Employee Involvement: The effort is not isolated to one department of an organization. To be successful in its objective of customer satisfaction, there must be a common goal for all aspects of business and for each employee.
  • Process Oriented: Process thinking is fundamental to total quality management; the internal steps a company takes directly result in the external output delivered to the customers.
  • Integrated System: Basically, regardless of the size or complexity of the organization, all its distinct parts must work together.
  • Strategic and Systemic Approach: Using strategic planning to create a strategic plan that integrates quality as a core component of the company is a way to structure total quality management into an organization’s mission.
  • Continual Improvement: The mantra for total quality improvement is customer satisfaction, but that is not a one-shot goal: the act of improving quality for the customer is a process without an end.
  • Fact-Based Decision Making: In order to know if an organization is meeting its objectives, there must be data on performance, and those metrics must be collected and analyzed with accuracy and without prejudice. (For more on this, learn how to use data to be a better manager.)
  • Communications: It’s impossible to maintain a successful TQM approach without an effective communication plan. Communication plans make sure that every department is aware of what they and others are responsible for, so they can coordinate operations to achieve their common goal.

How to Implement Total Quality Management

Getting started with total quality management requires that the top management learn about the methodology, and then commit to it as one of the organization’s strategies. The organization writ large must then assess its customer satisfaction and quality management systems.

The top management must then identify the core values and principles that they intend to use and communicate them throughout the organization. This can include a revised mission statement. From this a master plan is devised. The organization then will identify and prioritize customer demands and make sure its products and services align with these.

The processes to meet customer needs are outlined by management and managed by a steering committee. Managers help through planning, training, coaching and whatever else might foster progress. Also, they facilitate daily process management and standardization reporting that is evaluated and revised as needed. This includes employee feedback.

There are various strategies that can be used to implement TQM, from applying the keys business processes to a “guru” approach. The latter is when direction flows from one or more of the leading thinkers. Sometimes the leadership comes from individuals or teams within the organization. There’s also the Japanese model and the award criteria approach, the former following the Japanese method and the latter focuses on rewarding quality improvements.

As the name says, total quality management is a systemic change to the strategic goals of an organization. It impacts everyone and every department. Therefore, having the right tools to manage and communicate this process throughout an organization is critical. is a cloud-based project management software that gives managers and teams the control to plan, track and report on the progress of this or any methodology. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial.

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