Quality and Total Quality
Different words, such as “inspection”, “control”, “assurance” and “management”, are often used when organizations set out to achieve better quality. But each of these terms do not all mean the same thing.
Traditionally in the past the emphasis has been on control rather than on assurance and while there are not always clear distinctions and cut-off points between them, a look at the broad differences helps to focus on what Continuous Improvement really means.
As you look at these terms it might help to see them as stages in a move towards total quality, where each one builds on the one before and makes it more powerful. So, for example, Inspection is a basic approach, the first stage, with virtually no impact on continuous improvement. Control is more sophisticated and has extra features that help the organization deliver quality, while Assurance is more about managing quality. In the end it is Management of all of these and more that brings about Total Quality. Total Quality Management (TQM) is a combination of quality and management tools aimed at increasing business and reducing losses due to wasteful practices.
For a quality based improvement system to work well (on an on-going basis), managing the activity is a critical first step. In other words, considerable managerial grip on quality and business improvement needs to be established at the outset (a sort of synchronization of watches before the operation is launched) and this should start at the very top-with the leaders of the enterprise.
Sound leadership for quality at the top of an organization develops vision, values, and policy agendas, sets priorities among competing demands, and plans strategically. Strategic quality management aligns programs and management systems (e.g., personnel, budgeting, procurement etc) to support the quality vision and agenda, and ensures that these programs and systems are continuously improved to give better value to customers. This essentially means that people are given the right resources at the right time to give customers what they need-consistently. The combination of sound leadership and strategic management is essential to driving and guiding major cultural change across any enterprise.
Many years ago Edwards Deming an early educator and guru in the quality realm, illustrated the continuous improvement concept with a circle. He envisaged this circle or wheel rolling ever upwards (see below). The circle contained four quadrants – Plan, Do, Check and Act. Over the years the names of each of the four phases Deming envisaged has changed many times but essentially reflect the process of planning (P) testing, (T) checking (C) and executing (E) as the quality diagram above shows.