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Quality and Total Quality

What is Total Quality Management?

What is Total Quality Management?

Total Quality Management, or TQM, has been around for more than 40 years now and is perhaps the most commonly cited philosophy or program-focused approach for overall business or what is sometimes also called process improvement. As a philosophy, TQM has survived the test of time by focusing heavily on the needs and expectations of the internal and external customer, and then worked backwards to make sure that a given organization is doing everything it can to properly meet those customer needs.

This whole concept of “better meeting customer needs” might include greater product/service innovation, superior marketing and sales effort, improved support for the customer, more efficient delivery systems or more effective payment methods. However, whatever the area of focus, the aim is to drive a culture of continuous improvement throughout the organization and to optimize all processes as much as possible (from a cost, efficiency and effectiveness perspective).

TQM Principles

In a general sense, Total Quality Management (TQM) can be seen as a continuously evolved management system, consisting of particular values, methodologies and tools. The aim of the system is to increase external and internal customer satisfaction with a reduced or “streamlined” amount of resources. Although TQM is applied in slightly different ways from one organization to the next, there are a number of principles that underpin a culture of total quality in all cases. These are:

  • The Customer is the Ultimate Judge of Value
  • The Search for a Lean Approach
  • Controlling the Process Means Reducing Dispersion
  • Involving & Empowering People
  • Continuous Improvement is a spiral

If an organization were to be depicted as a circle, it would have three facets at the heart of its total quality efforts. These are:

  1. People (or the extent to which employees are properly focused on quality and continuous improvement issues and have the necessary learning and tools to bring about change).
  2. Process (or the extent to which all major organizational processes or large-scale tasks are well-managed on an end to end basis).
  3. Reducing wastage (or the extent to which process waste of any kind is addressed rigorously).

These facets should constantly be based on listening to the voice of the customer so as to add more value for the customer. In so doing, this creates the optimized circle, with optimal quality, cost and delivery helping to maximize customer satisfaction.

TQM Categories

Because TQM has been around for a long time now, the various sub-methodologies have been distilled into specific areas of focus in many organizations, or shaped into a series of “business excellence principles” or categories.  Let’s therefore briefly look at the ones most commonly used:

  • Leadership and Constancy of Purpose: The extent to which leaders focus on quality and are persistent in the efforts to make sure that it retains a high level of attention at all levels.
  • Customer Focus: The extent to which the customers’ voice is heard regularly and loudly in the organization (and guides the actions of the organization as a result).
  • Management by Processes & Facts: The extent to which the main focus of employees is on factual data or evidence about relative process performance.
  • People Development & Involvement: The extent to which employees are given knowledge and skills about quality and improvement methods.
  • Continuous Learning, Innovation & Improvement: The extent to which the organization at every level learns from its mistakes to help drive improvement.
  • Results Orientation: The extent to which identified quality and business improvement suggestions are implemented or acted upon.
  • Partnership Development: The extent to which the organization starts to partner with its suppliers and customers to even drive better quality outcomes.
  • Public Responsibility: The extent to which the organization plays a positive role in the wider community/society of which it is a part (to create long term sustainability).

In many cases, some or even all of the above categories of effort are used to create a total quality scoring system, allowing an organization to focus its attention on the weakest areas in the overall mix.


It has now been several decades since the core ideas of total quality management (TQM) set forth mainly by W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Kaoru Ishikawa gained significant acceptance in the worldwide management community. In this time, TQM has become something of a social movement. It has spread from its industrial origins in health care organizations, public bureaucracies, non-profit organizations’, and educational institutions to almost every business no matter what the size or type and is being applied in increasingly sophisticated ways. But at its heart TQM is a simple philosophy which is essentially about dealing with work-based obstacles and bad processes or systems. If leaders can make this an important part of their focus, great competitive advantage can be achieved.

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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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