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Quality - TQM

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

Total quality management is a popular "quality management" concept. However, it is about much more than just assuring product or service quality. TQM is a business philosophy - a way of doing business. It describes ways to managing people and business processes to ensure complete customer satisfaction at every stage. TQM is often associated with the phrase - "doing the right things right, first time". This revision note summarises the main features of TQM.

Like most quality management concepts, TQM views "quality" entirely from the point of view of "the customer".

All businesses have many types of customer. A customer can be someone "internal" to the business (e.g. a production employee working at the end of the production line is the "customer" of the employees involved earlier in the production process).

A customer can also be "external to the business. This is the kind of customer you will be familiar with. When you fly with an airline you are their customer. When Tesco's buys products from food manufacturers, it is a customer.

TQM recognises that all businesses require "processes" that enable customer requirements to be met. TQM focuses on the ways in which these processes can be managed - with two key objectives:

1 100% customer satisfaction
2 Zero defects

The Importance of Customer - Supplier Relationships - "Quality Chains"

TQM focuses strongly on the importance of the relationship between customers (internal and external) and supplier. These are known as the "quality chains” and they can be broken at any point by one person or one piece of equipment not meeting the requirements of the customer. Failure to meet the requirements in any part of a quality chain has a way of multiplying, and failure in one part of the system creates problems elsewhere, leading to yet more failure and problems, and so the situation is exacerbated.

The ability to meet customers’ (external and internal) requirements is vital. To achieve quality throughout a business, every person in the quality chain must be trained to ask the following questions about every customer-supplier chain:

• Who are my customers?
• What are their real needs and expectations?
• How can I measure my ability to meet their needs and expectations?
• Do I have the capability to meet their needs and expectations? (If not, what must I do to improve this capability?)
• Do I continually meet their needs and expectations? (If not, what prevents this from happening when the capability exists?)
• How do I monitor changes in their needs and expectations?

• Who are my internal suppliers?
• What are my true needs and expectations?
• How do I communicate my needs and expectations to my suppliers?
• Do my suppliers have the capability to measure and meet these needs and expectations?
• How do I inform them of changes in my needs and expectations?

Main Principles of TQM

The main principles that underlie TQM are summarised below:

Prevention Prevention is better than cure. In the long run, it is cheaper to stop products defects than trying to find them
Zero defects The ultimate aim is no (zero) defects - or exceptionally low defect levels if a product or service is complicated
Getting things right first time Better not to produce at all than produce something defective
Quality involves everyone Quality is not just the concern of the production or operations department - it involves everyone, including marketing, finance and human resources
Continuous improvement Businesses should always be looking for ways to improve processes to help quality
Employee involvement Those involved in production and operations have a vital role to play in spotting improvement opportunities for quality and in identifying quality problems

Introducing TQM into a Business

TQM is not an easy concept to introduce into businesses - particularly those that have not traditionally concerned themselved too much with understanding customer needs and business processes. In fact - many attempts to introduce TQM fail!

One of the reasons for the challenge of introducing TQM is that it has significant implications for the whole business.

For example, it requires that management give employees a say in the production processes that they are involved in. In a culture of continuous improvement, workforce views are invaluable. The problem is - many businesses have barriers to involvement. For example, middle managers may feel that their authority is being challenged.

So "empowerment" is a crucial part of TQM. The key to success is to identify the management culture before attempting to install TQM and to take steps to change towards the management style required for it. Since culture is not the first thing that managers think about, this step has often been missed or ignored with resultant failure of a TQM strategy.

TQM also focuses the business on the activities of the business that are closest to the customer - e.g. the production department, the employees facing the customer. This can cause resentment amongst departments that previously considered themselves "above" the shop floor.

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