Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management

6 Six Sigma

Total Quality Management

Total quality management (TQM) is a managing method that includes every employee in an organization, and makes certain demands of every person from other companies who interact with the organization. When all transactions in a business — from verbal communications to accounting entries to machine refurbishing – are monitored for continuous improvement, the result is a TQM plan.

TQM is a theory. It depends in part upon the customer’s idea of optimum quality. As in continuous improvement, it is an approach toward requiring every employee to seek to improve their part of the entire operation. TQM is very similar to supply chain management, but to easily differentiate the two, we will say that TQM includes sales, marketing and top managers who otherwise are not involved in the flow of goods and services. We have seen that return and restocking warehouse people are not generally included in supply chain statistics (see supply chain management here), but they are all included in seeking total quality.

There is no way for a TQM plan to be 100 percent effective, since improvement can never end in a perfect process. Purchasing managers and others might be shown software, training programs, seminars and schools, but they are all an attempt to begin to change a complete community. This is the key to TQM: it replaces any previous corporate culture and behavior. For example, sales teams are no longer to use slogans or meeting areas that differentiate them from the other sectors of the plant. Targets and quotas, for sales and production, are eliminated. Individual education and training are top priorities, rather than group/divisional training.

TQM is controversial because some of its tenets have been vigorously challenged. Intra-company competitions have long been used to instill pride in departments. Can the engine production department reduce more waste than the transmission production department? Can the east coast sales force beat the west coast this year? TQM eliminates these kinds of competitions in favor of individual improvement. It is likely that the best plan for most companies falls somewhere in the middle.

Parts of TQM are not radical change from standard quality control. It asks suppliers and customers to become involved, convincing them that continuous improvement will help everyone’s bottom line. Every department (and ultimately every individual) becomes both supplier and customer. Every position along the production line accepts or rejects the product for the next step as a “customer” for the part. This is much the same main concept as other that of other quality management plans.

Plants have found that one of the most difficult activities to implement is positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, workers in the United States are generally ignored if they do their jobs but chastised when they don’t. Companies have a specific protocol in place for negative employee behavior (warning, written warning, suspension, termination, for example) but few have the same protocol for positive reinforcement. Positive awards can be difficult when the idea of internal competition is eliminated.

Retailers have installed a compromise in this field. They give positive points or awards to employees within the same store, but hold many competitions among stores in region. Stores win for best cleanliness, highest sales, or prettiest display, but no individual employee is charged with a losing effort.

The same kind of compromise works in manufacturing. Instead of store-to-store competition, departments can be put in competition according to percentage of improvement, for example. Everyone can accept the need for total quality without a complete culture overhaul. Smaller increments are also more palatable to many workers. Plants need to keep producing at top efficiency while quality changes are put in place.

To learn more about supply chain and quality management see our Operations Duties section.


Kyle West

Operations Supply chain specialist