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Quality and Total Quality

How is Total Quality Different from Quality Assurance?

How is Total Quality Different from Quality Assurance?

Quality assurance (or what is also often called Quality control) has had a long history (being applied to a greater or lesser extent in most manufacturing businesses since the industrial revolution). Quality Assurance was usually the final process on the production or operational “line” where products were tested or checked or inspected and if they passed they were shipped to customers. If they failed however, they were either re-worked (fixed, repaired etc.) or thrown out altogether. However, quality assurance and control has always been seen to be an expensive way to check for quality because it occurs at the end of the process when a lot of time, effort and money has already been expended. Starting in the 1970’s a search was therefore made to find more efficient and effective ways to deliver quality goods and services to customers, and ideally a lot earlier, or well before they got to final inspection before shipment.

Total Quality Management (or TQM for short as it came to be known) evolved in response to this search as a holistic management philosophy that aimed to involve the whole organization (and not just the end-of-line quality checkers and inspectors) in being accountable for ensuring the intrinsic quality of their processes and work. Under this system all individuals were encouraged to take the utmost care throughout their part of the process (whether this was at early, middle or late stages) in order to get a product or service “right first time”. In this way, the TQM approach sought to identify the source of any defect or problem along the process in order to prevent it from causing a quality issue further down the line.

As a broadly based management system, TQM evolved further over time to become a multi-faceted approach which included:

  • Cross-functional product /service design with quality in mind
  • Common and special cause variation determination
  • Process management and re-engineering, where needed
  • Supplier-side quality management
  • Much greater customer involvement at all stages of the supply process
  • Quality circles (for innovation and improvement suggestions)
  • Statistical process control /Six Sigma analysis
  • “lean” principles (to minimize and remove process waste)
  • Just-in-Time management (JIT)
  • Pareto Analysis of processes and tasks
  • “5 Whys”/Root cause analysis techniques

To name just a few.

TQM therefore now aims to improve the total performance at the work place. It covers all functions, activities and people. Employees are consequently expected to participate not only in maintaining quality but also in improving their total performance so that the wastage will be avoided, operational costs will go down and the enterprise can earn better or more profitable/sustainable margins.

In addition to the above, TQM has come to mean making a strategic commitment to improving quality by combining statistical quality control methods with a cultural commitment to seeking incremental improvements that increase productivity and lower costs. In this sense TQM and Quality assurance combine together to deliver a better overall result for the organization. The term “Quality Assurance” has now also therefore evolved to mean three main things. Now it is:

  • defined as the entire collection of activities which ensures that the operation will produce the optimum quality products or services at minimum cost.
  • the process through which any enterprise measures the actual quality performance when compared to ideal standards (and takes corrective action if there is a deviation).
  • the systematic control of various factors that affect the quality of the product or service (such as Material, Tools, Machines, Type of labor, Working conditions, etc.).
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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