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Welcome to my blog for all things related to business quality (processes, systems and ways of working), products and product quality, manufacturing and operations management.

This blog is a mixture of real-world experience, ideas, comments and observations that I hope you'll find interesting.

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September 2009
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The secrets of Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management is a buzz-phrase that, at the same time, means nothing and means everything about quality management.

Unlike ISO 9001 it isn’t a standard – you can’t comply with it – and unlike Kaizen it isn’t a specific technique that you can adopt. Nor is it a tool or a process or a system.

So what on earth is it?

Well, TQM is an umbrella term that describes the philosophy and strategy of putting the customer** first and managing all your activities to maximise customer satisfaction and reduce the number of defects in your products or services to zero. It applies to the entire organisation, and properly adopting it is a really big deal for any company.

**The ‘customer’ can be a stakeholder or another company department, it doesn’t always have to be the buyer or end user of your products or services.

TQM derives from the work of the ‘Big 5’ quality gurus – Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum, Crosby and Ishikawa. There is a great deal of literature on the subject and many different interpretations about what it really consists of and how you should implement it.

However, in my view there are eight key elements that you will need to address if you want to make Total Quality a success in your organisation:

  • The whole organisation must have an overt, clear, widely understood and agreed long-term commitment to continuous improvement
  • Management must lead from the front and by example; they must put the customer at the forefront of everything they say and do
  • Adopt the philosophy of zero defects (errors) even if your sceptics say this is impossible to achieve and pointless; change the culture to be ‘right first time’ and do everything in your power to promote this philosophy from now onwards
  • People are at the heart of the company and its TQM success so make sure they are enthusiastic participants; make sure they are informed and trained to put the customer – and the zero defects principle – first, and consistently re-train and develop their expertise and responsibility
  • Make team-working, co-operation and communication central to the way your company works, to break down barriers between departments and remove the ‘it’s not my problem’ excuse for inactivity
  • Measure performance in all areas and use these measures to make improvements (Plan-Do-Check-Act) but make sure this is done objectively and constructively and without blame – you must develop an open, constructive and no-blame environment to eliminate fear and make people comfortable with continuous change
  • Quality Management Systems are one of the building blocks of TQM; plan and manage their continuous improvement; make sure the ‘way you do things’ – your processes and systems – are established, documented, and used consistently across the business (whether ISO 9001 or not); this gives you a baseline from which to improve
  • Develop an integrated systematic approach to implementing TQM, in order to design and manage all the inter-relating processes; implement and manage TQM as a serious, major, company-wide project and give it sufficient time, effort, resources and management attention.

There is no single method for TQM; every organisation is different and should design its own approach. However, the tools and techniques you can use to implement it include Kaizen, Statistical Process Control, Quality Function Deployment, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, Cost of Quality analysis and others, some of which I have already blogged about and others of which I will blog about shortly!

Adopting the principles of TQM will force changes in your culture, working methods and processes. This will be less painful and easier to sustain if you already have a Quality Management System (such as ISO 9001) in place.

Remember that TQM is a journey not an end point; continuous improvement is essential. After using the various tools and techniques you will need establish how successful you have been, then take action to improve, in other words the familiar Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

TQM isn’t easy. Studies have shown that fewer than 1 in 3 TQM programmes achieves a significant improvement in quality, productivity, or commercial success, which is why it has become less popular over the last few years. Invariably it isn’t the principle of TQM that is wrong but the way it has been implemented.

In many regards, TQM and the new kid on the block, Six Sigma (I’ll talk about this in another blog) could be seen as merely the ‘formalisation of common sense’ in quality management. However, that would underestimate the benefit of applying well planned, structured methodologies across a company to secure business improvement; applying it well in a consistent and sustained way can make a real difference.

However, it must be done properly. I know a company that spent a fortune on a two day own-designed TQM launch event for all its staff. There was a lot of good sense talked at the event but, due to a pedantic approach and a misjudged agenda, the only lasting message was that everyone had to answer their telephone with the same embarrassingly long and verbose script that infuriated callers. The whole TQM initiative withered away almost instantly and the opportunity was wasted.

So if you are launching this type of initiative in your company – and there are potentially huge benefits from doing so – please take some expert advice and make sure you give the right message!

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