Total quality management (TQM)

Total quality management is a management approach centred on quality, based on the participation of an organisation's people and aiming at long term success (ISO 8402:1994). This is achieved through customer satisfaction and benefits all members of the organisation and society.

 In other words, TQM is a philosophy for managing an organisation in a way which enables it to meet stakeholder needs and expectations efficiently and effectively, without compromising ethical values.

TQM is a way of thinking about goals, organisations, processes and people to ensure that the right things are done right first time. This thought process can change attitudes, behaviour and hence results for the better.

What TQM is not

TQM is not a system, a tool or even a process. Systems, tools and processes are employed to achieve the various principles of TQM.

What does TQM cover?

The total in TQM applies to the whole organisation. Therefore, unlike an ISO 9000 initiative which may be limited to the processes producing deliverable products, TQM applies to every activity in the organisation. Also, unlike ISO 9000, TQM covers the soft issues such as ethics, attitude and culture.

What is the TQM philosophy?

There are several ways of expressing this philosophy. There are also several gurus whose influence on management thought in this area has been considerable, for example Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum, Ishikawa and Imai. The wisdom of these gurus has been distilled into eight principles defined in ISO 9000:2000.

The principles of quality management:

There are eight principles of quality management:

  • customer-focused organisation - organisations depend on their customers and therefore should understand current and future customer needs, meet customer requirements and strive to exceed customer expectations
  • leadership - leaders establish unity of purpose, direction and the internal environment of the organisation. They create the environment in which people can become fully involved in achieving the organisation's objectives
  • involvement of people - people at all levels are the essence of an organisation and their full involvement enables their abilities to be used for the organisation's benefit
  • process approach - a desired result is achieved more efficiently when related resources and activities are managed as a process
  • system approach to management - identifying, understanding and managing a system of interrelated processes for a given objective contributes to the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation
  • continual improvement - continual improvement is a permanent objective of an organisation
  • factual approach to decision making - effective decisions are based on the logical and intuitive analysis of data and information
  • mutually beneficial supplier relationships - mutually beneficial relationships between the organisation and its suppliers enhance the ability of both organisations to create value

How does TQM differ from the EQA model?

The European Quality Award model is used to assess business excellence. Business excellence is the result of adopting a TQM philosophy and realigning the organisation towards satisfying all stakeholders (customers, owners, shareholders, suppliers, employees and society). The quality award criteria offers measures of performance rather than a methodology.

Why should a company adopt TQM?

Adopting the TQM philosophy will:

  • make an organisation more competitive
  • establish a new culture which will enable growth and longevity
  • provide a working environment in which everyone can succeed
  • reduce stress, waste and friction
  • build teams, partnerships and co-operation

When should a company adopt TQM?

TQM can be adopted at any time after executive management has seen the error of its ways, opened its mind and embraced the philosophy. It cannot be attempted if management perceives it as a quick fix, or a tool to improve worker performance.

How should a company adopt TQM?

Before TQM is even contemplated

TQM will force change in culture, processes and practice. These changes will be more easily facilitated and sustained if there is a formal management system in place. Such a system will provide many of the facts on which to base change and will also enable changes to be implemented more systematically and permanently.

The first steps

In order to focus all efforts in any TQM initiative and to yield permanent benefits, a company must answer some fundamental questions:

  • what is its purpose as a business?
  • what is its vision for the business?
  • what is its mission?
  • what are the factors upon which achievement of its mission depends?
  • what are its values?
  • what are its objectives?

A good way to accomplish this is to take top management off site for a day or two for a brainstorming session. Until management shares the same answers to these questions and has communicated them to the workforce there can be no guarantee that the changes made will propel the organisation in the right direction.


There are a number of approaches to take towards adopting the TQM philosophy. The teachings of Deming, Juran, Taguchi, Ishikawa, Imai, Oakland etc can all help an organisation realign itself and embrace the TQM philosophy. However, there is no single methodology, only a bundle of tools and techniques.

Examples of tools include:

  • flowcharting
  • statistical process control (SPC)
  • Pareto analysis
  • cause and effect diagrams
  • employee and customer surveys

Examples of techniques include:

  • benchmarking
  • cost of quality
  • quality function deployment
  • failure mode effects analysis
  • design of experiments


After using the tools and techniques an organisation needs to establish the degree of improvement. Any number of techniques can be used for this including self-assessment, audits and SPC.


TQM initiatives have been prone to failure because of common mistakes. These include:

  • allowing external forces and events to drive a TQM initiative
  • an overwhelming desire for quality awards and certificates
  • organising and perceiving TQM activities as separate from day-to-day work responsibilities
  • treating TQM as an add-on with little attention given to the required changes in organisation and culture
  • senior management underestimating the necessary commitment to TQM

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