Total Quality Management (TQM)

Delivering Quality at Every Level

Total Quality Management (TQM) - Delivering Quality at Every Level

© iStockphoto

Ensure quality at every level.

Stop for a second, and think of all the pieces that need to come together to deliver a product to your customer.

From the time your customer considers purchasing your product to the delivery of that product, how many processing points are there? Dozens? Hundreds? An order is placed. A requisition is made. Raw materials are ordered. Items are manufactured. Finished goods are inspected. A delivery method is set. Customer contact is made.

All of these activities impact the quality of what you deliver, and a mistake or miscalculation in one small area can affect everything else.

Poor quality is often the result of poorly planned and executed processes. With the correct systems in place to create and check quality, you have a much higher chance of getting the order right and satisfying your customer.

So, if all the activities we mentioned contribute to the final product or service, that means that virtually every department is involved – not just manufacturing or operations, but also human resources, accounting, marketing, and so on.

This is the essence of Total Quality Management (TQM). There's no one "right" definition or explanation of TQM, but it's essentially a management philosophy in which everyone in the organization strives to continuously improve customer satisfaction. The emphasis is on planned improvement – a continuous cycle of improvements and feedback that provides the best possible products and services.


TQM originated in Japan. Most people credit W. Edwards Deming, a statistician who lectured on statistical process control in Japan after World War II, with importing the idea to the U.S. Deming outlined 14 points of TQM, and the philosophy took off from there. Other notable TQM personalities include Kaoru Ishikawa, Philip Crosby, and Joseph Juran.

TQM and a Culture of Quality

For TQM to work, everyone in the organization has to be involved. It takes a "culture of quality," where people are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and the product. The Japanese have a name for this type of approach: kaizen. Kaizen is the idea that people at all levels of the organization are responsible for finding inefficiencies and suggesting improvements.

With a TQM approach, there are three main opportunities to make improvements and increase efficiency:

  1. External customers – What can you do to make sure your customers are completely satisfied with your product or service?
  2. Internal customers – How can you make sure your suppliers and staff know what they need to deliver so you can produce a quality product?
  3. Business processes – How can you improve the processes themselves, decreasing costs and time spent?


TQM is not limited to manufacturing. TQM is a company-wide philosophy that dictates how business is conducted. It can involve recruiting new staff, motivating current staff, deciding which workers go on which team, or deciding how to restructure your organization. TQM is at the core of everything – guiding you toward a more efficient and effective workplace. Quality products and services are built by quality people who work together in a quality environment.

Principles of TQM

To start building a culture of quality, consider applying these five key management principles within your organization.

1. Use "Plan-Do-Check-Act" (The Deming Cycle)

This is a structured problem solving system based on the scientific method of...

Access the Full Article

This article is only available in full within the Mind Tools Club.

Learn More and Join Today

Already a Club member? Log in to finish this article.