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Why Total Quality Management still has lessons for us today

Otto de Graaf
Otto de Graaf

The Japanese have long been at the forefront of Quality Management, and it was here that the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) first took hold in the early 1950s. A lot has changed since, so how relevant is Total Quality Management in today’s manufacturing context? 

In this blog we argue that – although TQM is now widely accepted as an approach or a philosophy – the technological realization of its ideas is often incomplete, and surprisingly so. We shall go through some of the core principles of TQM, and then look at how the quality management software from AlisQI responds to the challenges they pose.

Introduction: a revolution in Quality Management

It was less than 100 years ago when William Edwards Deming, an American statistician, observed a serious weakness in US manufacturing production. Quality Control processes were controlled by management to the almost total exclusion of the factory floor workers closest to the production lines. Surely these workers had more insight into the quality issues of the factory, Deming reasoned.

This flaw is obvious to us today, but in the post-war era, the notion that everyone in a manufacturing plant had a stake in Quality Control was revolutionary.

Deming took his ideas to Japan, where the introduction of modern Quality Management techniques became an important factor in Japanese recovery after the Second World War.

TQM principles to improve the manufacturing process

The Total Quality Management technique pioneered by Deming finds value in every employee – as people grow and improve their abilities, operations are also bound to improve. Instead of full control over quality control processes, management plays an important leadership role, supporting funding, training, and clearly defined goals.

Since no two organizations are alike, the implementation and success of the TQM technique vary. And, even without a single agreed-upon approach, the technique includes these main principles.

Put the customer at the center

This is the mantra of every business. Ultimately, the customer that buys your products gets to decide whether the quality of those products is up to scratch. So far so obvious.

But hold on, customers also want insight into your Quality Management processes, and so making part of your QMS accessible to them is an important functionality. Every manufacturer is also a customer as part of the supply chain. Integrating your suppliers with your Quality Management processes will help resolve a lot of quality issues before they even reach your production lines.

Total employee involvement

At first sight, this is a cliché. From the boardroom to the factory floor, you want everyone to contribute to Quality Management because this will raise standards and bear down on overall costs.

If your QMS is complex (or part of your ERP system) implementing and maintaining it could be burdensome and require third-party consultancy. This can certainly work but it is alienating.

It was Deming’s insight that factory floor workers should be involved, and in today’s environment, you need them to input a wide range of production data for monitoring and analysis. How user-friendly is your QMS? Lab technicians may be able to navigate dashboards and data sets that are unintuitive, but this will be a barrier for a lot of the production workers who may not speak English or the native language of your factory.

Quality Management is process-centered

In our white paper on Quality Maturity, we saw how businesses that rely on ad hoc quality management spend most of their QC budget on correcting errors, rather than preventing them.

TQM requires specified, proven, repeatable and monitored processes – exactly what a modern QMS delivers.

All good? It depends on what processes you are talking about. Quality Management comprises (or should comprise) three pillars: QC, Document Management, and QESH, each with its own protocols and workflows. 

Surely, a “total” QMS would build paths from one pillar to the next even to the extent that the separation of QC, Document Management, and QESH becomes meaningless. But curiously this is seldom the case with the vendor solutions currently available on the market; many tend to focus on QC to the detriment of QESH or Document Management. Although these solutions are much beyond what Deming could have imagined, they are not “total” in the way his system envisages.

Quality Management is integrated

Quality Control incidents such as recalls or deviations have recourse to all aspects of QMS: the workflow recording the incident and setting out next steps; the documented batch file used to trace the root cause of the incident, and finally – if the solution to the problem leads to changes in procedure – the Quality Manual. While integration is possible with a third-party solution, this gives you multiple relationships to manage (and several license fees to pay). 

Continuous improvement and fact-based decision-making

Deming’s methodology is sometimes known as “continuous improvement” Quality Management. If that made sense in the 1950s, it is imperative in our age of constant technological change. Nothing is set in stone. What matters here is that your QMS is not a barrier to change;

You want to make changes and formulate your strategy based on “facts”. Deming, although a statistician, could not have foreseen the phenomenon of Big Data where sheer computational power is discerning trends (or statistical “near facts”) that can alert us to problems ahead. Integration plays a role here too because disparate and siloed data give you the wrong facts and therefore the wrong insights on which to base your decisions.

TQM: does it work if using quality management software?

AlisQI’s integrated approach to quality management perfectly aligns with the key principles of TQM. Our omnipresent, process-driven, smart platform enables continuous improvement and will boost total quality management initiatives. To be more specific, here are a few ways in which AlisQI manages to achieve this:

  • Advanced analytics and easy-to-understand graphics for all quality processes to promptly detect deviations and ensure excellence
  • Workflows for products and processes that isolate changes and create follow-up actions
  • Real-time data connected to the supplier database
  • A QMS software for non-developers, empowering teams to get involved with quality starting with the implementation stage
  • Easily shared information, updated documents, and the possibility to make these accessible to the entire organization.
  • Clarity, adjustments only when deemed necessary, insights into the direction of the change
  • One solution for Quality Control, Document Management, and QESH Management, which merge natively into a natural and intuitive quality response.
  • No-code autonomy – users can adapt processes themselves and so respond quickly to observed procedural flaws or changing customer demands

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you call it Total Quality Management or Quality Maturity: you want your business to operate at the highest possible level using a cost-effective QMS that puts you in control. We think we can help you with that so please feel free to reach out and discuss your case.