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
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
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
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
* 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
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
Ahire, S. L., Golhar, D. Y. & Waller, M. A. (1996). Development
and validation of TQM implementation constructs. Decision Sciences,
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,
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
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,
Larson, P. D. & Sinha, A. (1995, Spring). The TQM impact: A study
of quality managers' perceptions. Quality Management Journal,
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),
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
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
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