Critical implementation issues in total quality management.
Managers must realize that total quality management (TQM) principles are still effective despite recent reports of its failure in a large percentage of companies which attempted its implementation. These failures were not due to basic deficiencies in TQM principles but in the failure of management to establish the proper system for its implementation. Some lessons which can be gleaned from previous experiences include the need to assess a company's own unique requirements, the need to establish a culture which is able to nurture a TQM mentality, the need to adapt TQM implementation to the firm's strategic priorities, competitive environment and goals, that successful TQM implementation requires a substantial amount of time and effort, and that TQM implementation is not the same for each company.

Total quality management (Methods)
Shin, Dooyoung
Kalinowski, Jon G.
El-Enein, Gaber Abou
Pub Date:
Name: SAM Advanced Management Journal Publisher: Society for the Advancement of Management Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, general Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1998 Society for the Advancement of Management ISSN: 0036-0805
Date: Wntr, 1998 Source Volume: v63 Source Issue: n1
Product Code: 9911000 Management Theory & Techniques
Accession Number:
Full Text:
Recently, many business magazines, newspapers, and academic journals that have praised TQM as a critical source of sustainable competitive advantage have begun to publish reports on its failure (Fuchsberg (1992), Brown (1993), Jacob (1993), Harari (1993). While many companies have demonstrated improvement in achieving high quality and business performance, others have either abandoned or reduced their efforts toward TQM programs. Frustrated by the lack of visible improvements, unconvincing results, and the reports of unsuccessful TQM efforts, some organizations have begun to question the value of TQM or view it as a distracting management fad (Ackoff (1993), Becker (1993), Bemowski (1993), Jacob (1993), Wilkinson et al. (1994).

Is the TQM age over? It is indeed a passing management fad? Or, is it a revolutionary concept making fundamental contributions to the improvement of quality and business performance? Despite the potential benefits of TQM articulated by quality gurus and consultants, and despite anecdotal success stories, the high failure rates (60%-67%) quoted in the literature have made many companies believe that TQM has not been delivering on its promises.

Why then has TQM been failing? Even though some critics argue that TQM is a faddish concept created on a flimsy footing, many published reports proved otherwise. It is generally accepted that when TQM has failed, it is not because there was a basic flaw in the principles of TQM, but because an effective system was not created to execute TQM principles properly. Nevertheless, since the implementation of TQM requires unwavering organizational commitment, substantial time and effort, and drastic changes in the organizational culture and business practices, it is important for companies to clearly understand what it takes to succeed and achieve high performance. The purpose of this paper is to examine possible answers to the questions raised here, and to provide managers with guidelines for the successful implementation of TQM.

Key TQM Principles

There have been numerous studies examining what constitutes TQM, what quality activities most directly affect business performance, what the common barriers to TQM implementation are, and what factors are critical for the success of TQM (Saraph et al. (1989), GAO (1991), Easton (1993), DDI (1993), Ernst and Young (1993), Mann and Kehoe (1994), Plimpton et al. (1996), Black and Porter (1996). Many of these studies are based on surveys of CEOs, middle managers, employees, quality specialists, and the Baldrige winners, and reflect a fairly common and pragmatic view of TQM. Although these studies have provided slightly different results, some key threads run through them. In an effort to determine if quality improves organizational performance and to identify factors critical to the success of TQM, these studies have identified a common set of principles considered essential to the success of the overall TQM program.

As frequently discussed in the TQM literature, the following have been deemed critical for successful TQM implementation: strong top management leadership and commitment, customer focus, employee involvement and empowerment, a focus on continuous improvement, supplier partnerships, and the recognition of quality as a strategic issue in business planning. The use of SPC and statistical tools, product and service quality in design, performance measures focusing on quality, actions based on facts, and the new role of a quality department and quality specialists are also considered critical. These underlying TQM principles are commonly applicable to any organization and compose a set of key determinants for a successful TQM program. Although these principles prevail in most quality improvement programs, simply adopting them will not guarantee success. It may create confusion unless they are properly implemented. While these principles appear obvious, many organizations have found them very difficult to execute. This is reportedly due to the fact that the implementation is cumbersome, time-consuming, and frequently lacking in focus. Some TQM critics report that the principles are too theoretical and broad to be practical. It is noteworthy that no single approach contains all of the keys to quality, and no cookbook can be equally applied to all company situations and cultures. A combination of many different factors, such as an organizational culture conducive to total quality, the proper quality infrastructure, and system readiness, also contribute to the success or failure of TQM programs.

We do not want to revisit issues related to the definition of TQM and its key principles in this paper because numerous studies have already focused on them. Instead, we focus on implementation issues that have not been discussed but are critical for TQM success. We want to provide managers with additional guidance when considering the implementation or review of a quality program. The lessons described in the following sections are identified through a review of the TQM literature. We believe that lessons can be learned from failures as well as successes, and these lessons can be valuable for the successful implementation of TQM.

Lessons for Successful TQM Implementation

Lesson 1: Know thyself. Above all things, it is very important for companies to clearly understand what TQM really means for them before they start a TQM journey. Many do not have a coherent view of what TQM really means except at the most basic level. Raising the following questions will often help companies identify their needs and wants, concerns and capabilities, and help determine focus. What is TQM? Why is TQM necessary? What are the key areas in need of significant improvement? How should we use TQM tools, techniques and practices, and when should we use them? How do we define "success"? On what measures is "success" based? What are the target performance levels in the areas of financial performance, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and quality performance? Are these numerical targets concrete, realistic, and achievable? Often, delusional measurement of success results in failure. Performance should be measured against the company's own, concrete TQM goals, and continual feedback should be used to monitor the progress of the plan.

Knowing who you are, what you do, how you compete, and where you stand in the quality journey would help companies measure the organization's awareness of the need for change, its readiness for planned improvement, and help identify action programs for mobilizing company resources. In light of this, conducting a self-audit or a self-assessment could help identify organizational weaknesses and strengths and identify areas on which efforts and resources should be focused. For this purpose, the criteria and guidelines of the Baldrige Award and ISO 9000 can be used in evaluating a company's current status and designing a company-specific total quality system.

Lesson 2: Create a culture that is conducive to and supportive of TQM implementation. The cultural barrier has been one of the frequently mentioned obstacles faced by organizations attempting to implement TQM. Many organizations do an excellent job of committing to total quality by adopting the aforementioned TQM principles, but neglect to create culture conducive to the establishment and continual improvement of quality. It should be recognized that the organization culture interweaves key TQM principles and allows the organization's energies to move in the same direction toward the achievement of total quality. Bounds et al. (1994) suggest that the following principles be considered for a supportive quality culture:

* The importance of determining what customers value as opposed to what management thinks they need.

* A customer versus an organizational focus.

* A focus on optimizing organizational performance rather than maximizing functional end results.

* The importance of experimentation for knowledge and openness to new information.

* Acceptance of mistakes that lead to organizational learning.

* Recognition of the importance of continuous improvement versus working to specification or adherence to the status quo.

* Recognition that performance improvement comes from process/system improvement and not just improving people.

* Willingness by managers to seek out root causes of problems.

* Understanding that continuous improvement is demanded at every level of the organization.

Lesson 3: TQM implementation should be clearly aligned with the company's strategic priorities, competitive environment, and goals. One of the frequently mentioned problems associated with TQM implementation is the fear that it can be counterproductive when combined with other management techniques such as Management By Objectives (MBO). Salegna and Fazel (1995) argue that the success of TQM depends on the organization's implementation plan and the congruency that exists between the TQM plan and the organization's goals and culture. They suggest that a careful plan is, therefore, required to integrate TQM into the organization's core values, and the implementation process be approached from an integrated system viewpoint and not piecemeal. To this end, it is recommended that everyone in the organization be informed not only of the strategic direction of the business but also of the current imperatives and current performance. Everyone should also understand where they fit in working toward those imperatives and achieving those goals.

Lesson 4: Understand the necessary. time and effort. Management should set realistic, achievable, and concrete goals rather than trying to encompass too many elements at the same time. Quality action programs should be allowed sufficient time to adapt and assimilate, and a strong resource base is also required. The development of planning through an integrated flowchart often helps identify teams and departments responsible for certain activities, projected completion time, and efforts required for each activity. A pre-implementation plan also helps develop the right attitude and the level of awareness crucial to achieving success in a quality improvement program.

Lesson 5: TQM implementation should be unique to each company. The success of TQM is a function of many variables (both controllable and uncontrollable), and many of them are unique to the company situation. It should be noted that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach for TQM. Certain quality activities may be more appropriate for some organizations than for others. When establishing quality programs, companies should look for a fit between their current situation and the environment in which they compete, rather than relying on an off-the-shelf TQM package. No single prepackaged quality program or approach can be installed intact in any organization. Each company should custom-make its own program to fit its culture, current practices, and policies (Ernst and Young (1993). For example, the study by Ernst and Young (1993) recommends that lower-performing companies focus on the development of people, customer interaction, process improvement and cost reduction rather than trying to do too much, too soon. Medium performing companies should focus on vendor quality, employee training, cycle time analysis, and process simplification. This study also suggests that the widely touted practices of benchmarking and employee empowerment only had beneficial results for higher-performing companies. As companies progressed from one level of performance to the next, the focus of their quality programs need to expand. Usually, practices were cumulative, with each level building on the one before. Customer input and employee training were key at all levels of performance.

Lesson 6: Take a "holistic" approach. TQM is neither a canned program nor a simple sum of quality tools, techniques, and practices. It requires an effective system to implement target plans. Since the boundary of TQM is so broad and encompasses many disciplines and functional areas, a holistic approach that can integrate many activities is recommended. Interactions between and among departments, functional disciplines, and people at different levels should be recognized and managed to generate a synergistic effect. In light of this, a cross functional systems approach that integrates activities throughout the organization toward strategic objectives and breaks down barriers between departments and levels is often recommended (Bounds et al. (1994). This approach will raise everyone's attention to a higher level, above functional concerns, toward a holistic view of the organization with the purpose of serving customers. Larson and Sinha (1995) provide evidence that the cooperation between people and departments ignites a chain reaction leading to increasing customer and employee satisfaction while improving quality and productivity.

Lesson 7: Remember the key word. The term "Total Quality Management" conveys the comprehensive nature of quality improvement activities with emphasis on the word "total" and a broad definition of "quality." This "total" view of quality includes all activities at all levels in all areas, integrating them into a comprehensive approach to continuous improvement. It also necessitates total participation, total commitment, and total responsibility of everyone in an organization (top management, employees, suppliers and customers). While the concept of "totality" is essential to the success of TQM, this somewhat unbounded and ambiguous view has also created confusion among managers as to where to start, how to mobilize organizational resources, and what areas to include. As discussed in Lessons 2 and 5, it is recommended that the organization fully understand its ability (strengths and weaknesses, distinctive competence, limited resources, quality infrastructure such as employees' knowledge and skill base, quality awareness, and organization-wide commitment to quality) to deal effectively with quality-related issues. A myopic view or traditional approach that relies primarily on top management and quality specialists is not recommended.

Lesson 8: Understand that TQM is not a "magic bullet" or panacea for quality. Many companies simply jump on the bandwagon without fully understanding what TQM means for them or its possible consequences. A common misconception includes wishful thinking that TQM will fix short-term problems and quickly improve business performance - a view which is considered to be one of the biggest reasons for TQM failures. As is often said, TQM is not a destination but a journey requiring a long-term, unwavering commitment to the improvement of product or service and process quality. TQM should be considered as a means to an end rather than end in itself.

Summary and Conclusion

Implemented properly, TQM can be a powerful vehicle by which companies can achieve excellence in business performance. However, despite the fact that many companies adopt an archetypical TQM framework and its key principles, some of them have not been achieving TQM's potential benefits and have begun to abandon its practices. The TQM framework and key principles should not be blamed for its failure. It is the lack of understanding of what TQM means for each unique organization and how to implement it effectively that has created skepticism on the effectiveness of TQM. In this paper, we have examined several critical issues and provided lessons that may improve the possibility for successful implementation of TQM.

As we have emphasized, the success of TQM depends on many variables, controllable and uncontrollable, many of which are specific to the company's culture, customers, capability, and infrastructure. Therefore, each company should tailor its approach to exploit its unique strengths and focus on its particular weaknesses.

Finally, TQM is not a short-term fix. It is a long-term, never-ending commitment to the improvement of quality and performance. Organizations must be willing to stick with their efforts because results are not usually immediate. Finally, organizations should carefully examine their readiness for certain quality initiatives, keeping in mind the critical stages where certain practices are more appropriate than others.


Ackoff, R. (1993, March). Beyond TQM. Journal for Quality and Participation. 66-78.

Ahire, S. L., Golhar, D. Y. & Waller, M. A. (1996). Development and validation of TQM implementation constructs. Decision Sciences, 27(1), 23-56.

Barclay, C. A. (1993). Quality strategy and TQM policies: Empirical evidence. Management International Review, 33(2), 87-98.

Becker, S. W. (1993, May). TQM does work: Ten reasons why misguided attempts fail. Management Review, 30-33.

Bemowski, K. (1995, July). TQM: flimsy footing or firm foundation. Quality Progress, 27-28.

Black, S. A. & Porter, L. J. (1996). Identification of the critical factors of TQM. Decision Sciences, 27(1), 1-21.

Bound, G., Yorks, L., Adams, M. & Ranney, G. (1994). Beyond Total Quality Management: Toward the Emerging Paradigm. McGraw-Hill. New York, NY.

Brown, M. G. (1993). Why does total quality fail in two out of three tries? Journal of Quality and Participation, 16(2), 80-89.

Dean, J. W., Jr. & Bowen, D. E. (1994). Management theory and total quality: Improving research and practice through theory development. Academy of Management Review. 19(3), 392-418.

Development Dimensions International, Quality & Productivity Management Association and Industry Week. (1993). TQM: Forging ahead or falling behind? Pittsburgh: Development Dimensions International, Inc.

Easton, G. S. (1993). The 1993 state of U.S. total quality management: a Baldrige examiner's perspective. California Management Review, 35(3), 32-54.

Ernst & Young and the American Quality Foundation. (1993). International quality study: Best practices report. New York: Ernst & Young.

Fisher, T. J. (1992). The impact of quality management on productivity. The International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management, 9(3), 44-52.

Fuchsberg, G. (1992, May 14). Quality programs shows shoddy results. The Wall Street Journal, B1, B9.

General Accounting Office. (1991). U.S. companies improve performance through quality efforts. (NSIAD-91190). Washington, DC: United States General Accounting Office.

Harari, O. (1993, Jan.). Ten reasons why TQM doesn't work. Management Review, 33-38.

Jacob, R. (1993, Oct. 18). TQM: More than a dying fad? Fortune, 66-72.

Larson, P. D. & Sinha, A. (1995, Spring). The TQM impact: A study of quality managers' perceptions. Quality Management Journal, 53-66.

Mann, R. & Kehoe, D. (1994). An evaluation of the effects of quality improvement activities on business performance. The International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management, 11(4), 29-44.

Nadkarni, R. A. (1995, Nov.). A not-so-secret recipe for successful TQM. Quality progress, 91-96.

Plimpton, A. P., Kalinowski, J. G., Abou El-enein, G., & Shin, D. (1996, March). Assessing the impact of total quality management on performance - a recent review of literature. The Proceedings of The 1996 Conference of The Midwest Business Administration Society, 69-75.

Salegna, G. & Fazel, F. (1995). An integrative framework for developing and evaluating a TQM implementation plan. Quality Management Journal, 73-84.

Saraph, J. V., Benson, P. G., & Schroeder, R. G. (1989). An instrument for measuring the critical factors of quality management. Decision Sciences. 810-829.

Sitkin, S. B., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Schroeder, R. G. (1994). Distinguishing control from learning in total quality management: A contingency perspective. Academy of Management Review, 19(3), 537-564.

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award 1995 Criteria, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD.

Wilkinson, A., Redman, T., & Shape, E. (1995, Winter). New patterns of quality management in the United Kingdom. Quality Management Journal, 37-49.

Dr. Shin's teaching and research interests include production and operations management, quality management, JIT manufacturing, and management science; he chairs the Management Department. Dr. Kalinowski, a member of the Academy of Management and Decision Science Institute, researches strategic management, quality-related initiatives, and executive succession. Dr. Elenein, who is Dean of his university's College of Business, is also a member of the Academy of Management, the Decision Sciences Institute, and the North American Case Research Association.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.