Total Quality Management (TQM): Principles, Tools & Shortfalls

Total Quality Management (TQM) is the philosophy of involving all the stakeholders in an organization in a continued effort to improve the quality and to achieve customer satisfaction. Quality can be defined as the definitive parameter that distinguishes a superior product/service from an inferior one.

TQM “installs organization-wide culture” of continuous improvement where the employees, management and contractors are always striving to improve their ability to meet consumer demands (using the feedback system) by offering substantial value. The improvement in value is fronted in the processes, products, services and the organizational culture.

Approaches to Total Quality Management (TQM)

i) Find out what the customer wants.

  • You can do this by relying on survey focus groups and interviews.
  • You can also involve all the internal customers who happen to be the next person in the process
  • Involve external customers who are the final customers

ii) Secondly, design the product or service to meet and/or exceed the customer expectations.

iii) Next, design a process that will do the job right in the first time. Strive for a fail-proof process, (fail-safing).

iv) Next, keep track of all the results and use them to guide improvement in the process.

v) Lastly, extend the concept to your suppliers and distributors.

Pillars of Total Quality Management (TQM)

The chief pillar of TQM in an organization is about attitude change. The following aspects are critical to the achievement of attitude change.

a) Continuous Improvement

Improve all process related factors of converting inputs to outputs in an ongoing process.

b) Competitive Bench-marking

Identify the other organizations that are best at your line of business and study how they do it to learn how you can improve your operations.

c) Employee Empowerment

Give workers responsibilities and the authority to make changes to accomplish them; this will give them motivation. Put decision making in the hands of those closest to the task.

d) Team Approach

Have teams for problem solving since teams have synergy when they reach a consensus. People feel more involved and exhibit a cooperative spirit when they work in teams.

e) Factual Approach to Decision-making

The management should gather and analyze data as a basis for decision-making.

f) Knowledge of Tools

Management and employees should be well trained on the use of quality tools.

g) Supplier Quality Management

Suppliers should be included in quality assurance and quality improvement process to ensure that they are capable of delivering the requisite quality. They need to understand what is acceptable and what is not in terms of raw material quality.

h) TQM Champions

Identify a TQM champion whose main job will be to advance the value and importance of TQM throughout the organization.

i) Quality at the Source

Make each worker responsible for the quality of his or her own work. When every worker knows what is expected of him or her, s/he takes charge to deliver only the best. This reduces chaos and bile between the workers and their superiors.

j) Supplier Involvement

Suppliers are long-term partners in the process. Engaging them in the TQM process will help reduce incidences of non-conformity since they inspect the quality of the materials at the source.

Total Quality Management

Obstacles encountered during the implementation of Total Quality Management (TQM)

i) Lack of company-wide definition of quality

This leads to lack of coordination as people work at crossed purposes and use non-standardized methods to measure their success parameters.

ii) Lack of strategic plan for change

Lessens the chances for success and ignores to address the strategic implication of change.

iii) Lack of customer focus

Increases the risk of customer dissatisfaction since the needs of the customer is not factored in the design of the product or service.

iv) Poor intra-organizational communication

Leads to frustrations, waste and confusion since the message does not reach the intended recipient efficiently. As a result, the people have no clear orders regarding their purpose within the organization.

v) Lack of employee empowerment

This often happens when the employees are not trusted to address problems within their job description. There are many bureaucratic measures that lead to unnecessary delays.

vi) The view of quality as a quick fix rather than a long-term process

Quality is not a one-time event. Rather, it is a continuous process that is supposed to result in improvement in output in perpetuity.

vii) Emphasis on short-term financial results

Companies that amplify short-term results do not live to see their tenth anniversary. Every company should concentrate on quality first, and then build a loyal client base that will give it substantial returns in the years to come.

viii) Presence of internal politics and turf issues

This often leads to sabotage leading to delays, de-motivation and drop in performance. Many talented employees may decide to leave the company due to internal wrangles.

ix) Lack of strong motivation

Happens when all the stakeholders do not share the organization’s vision. They are disparate and non-focused on the goals that are necessary to achieve the vision.

x) Lack of time to devote to quality initiatives

The stakeholders will never appreciate the value of quality if the management does not make a concerted effort to sell the total quality management to them.

xi) Lack of leadership

Happens when the management does not show interest in championing for quality management within the organization.

Shortfalls of Total Quality Management (TQM)

  1. There is a blind pursuit of TQM programs such that other aspects of growth are overlooked. For instance, an organization may be over-zealously pursuing TQM that they lose sight of their competitor advances.
  2. TQM programs may not be included in the strategies of an organization in a meaningful manner.
  3. Quality related decisions may not be tied to market performance and may end up being costly.
  4. Failure to carefully plan a program leading to false starts, employee confusion, and meaningless reasoning.

Total Quality Management tools used in Problem Solving and Process Improvement

1. Flow Charts

Helps investigators to identify the critical points in a process where faults occur. Decision-making takes place at the diamond shape.

A typical flowchart

2. Check Sheets

These sheets allow the investigators to arrange the data in a way that will facilitate analysis and correction. Using this tool, the investigator may tell different defects in a given food product, where the defect is found, and the time when the defect occurred in a continuous manner.

3. Histograms

These are charts of empirical frequency distribution. The investigator uses them to check for the symmetry of the presentation and to identify the outliers. These outliers are critical to the identification of the defects and non-conformities.

4. Pareto Analysis

This principle is named after Wilfredo Pareto who developed the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% output is directly attributed to 20% input.

Under this principle, different problem areas are classified according to their degree of importance. This helps in eliminating distractions and focusing only on the most important aspect.

For instance, the investigator will be able to decipher that 80% of machine breakdowns come from only 20% of the machines. He will then narrow down his efforts to just these 20% faulty machines.

5. Scatter Diagrams

This is a graph that shows the relationship between to variables. The correlation may point out the cause of the problem. Less scatter indicates closer correlation, i.e. the scatter points tend to line up.

6. Control Charts

A typical control chart

These are statistical charts of time ordered values of a simple statistic. You can use these charts to monitor a process and find out if the process is random.

This can help you identify any correctable causes of variation in the process. The charts are so accurate that you can track the exact time when the error occurred in the system.

7. Cause and Effect Diagram

These are used to search for the causes of an identified problem. They are popularly called the fish-bone diagrams and they are commonly used in brainstorming sessions

cause-effect diagram
Fish-bone diagram

8. Run Charts

This is the most suitable tool for tracking results over a period of time. It is useful for identifying trends or other patterns that may be occurring over time.

It is easy to construct and interpret for data analysis.

run chart
A run chart for Incidents, Accidents and Misses 2016

Methods of Generating Ideas for Total Quality Management (TQM)

There are many idea generation tools out there with their advantages and disadvantages. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll cover just a couple of them. Some of the more common methods include:

1. Brainstorming

This technique is very suitable for groups where free flow of ideas are encouraged. It takes place in a relaxed atmosphere where unrestrained collective thinking is allowed. In such an environment, criticism is absent, no member dominates the sessions and all ideas are welcome in equal measure. The session should be structured to encourage everyone to participate.

The goal here is to generate ideas identifying problems, finding causes of different problems and forming solid solutions for them.

2. Quality Circles

Involves groups of workers who meet to discuss how to improve the system periodically. At my former workplace, we held quality circle meetings every other Tuesday. During these sessions, the employees get an opportunity to put their views across for considerations. They get the feeling of belonging and motivation when they are considered during such meetings.

These circles are less structured and the individuals have authority to implement the resolutions that arise from the meetings.

3. Interviews

Interviewing is a very effective technique for identifying problems and collecting different views and opinions. The best way to find solution for internal problems is by interviewing the workers while external problems are best assessed by interviewing the customers.

In all honesty, ideas for improvement should come from the research and development department, customers, competitors, and the company employees.

4. Bench-marking Sessions

Here, you measure the organization’s performance against the best player in the industry. Through this process, you will be able to extrapolate the performance metrics throughout the company to raise the standards to the appropriate levels.

The bench-marking process looks something like this:

  1. Identify an organization that excels in that aspect (choose the best)
  2. Identify the critical process that needs improvement
  3. Contact the benchmark organization; visit and study the benchmark activity
  4. Analyze the data obtained
  5. Use the information to improve the critical process at your organization

5. 5W2H

This method of idea generation uses different questions that have been abbreviated in the name. You ask questions such as;

What? Why? Where? Who? When? How? How much?

By answering all these questions, you will not only be armed with adequate information regarding the cause of the problem but also how to correct it and who should take charge of the process.

You can also make a time frame within which the quantifiable results should be achieved.

Decision Making Techniques: Their Advantages and Disadvantages

Decision making is a meticulously outlined process that involves goal setting, gathering sufficient information and planning the execution plan. Decision making techniques call for assessment and weighing of the available options to choose the most effective one to implement.

Typically, the decision making process involves the following steps:

  • First step – Identify the decision to be made: clearly define the nature of the decision to be made.
  • Second step – Gather relevant information: identify the information types that will be instrumental to your actions after making the decision.
  • Third step – Identify alternatives: make sure you put in place fall back plans in case the plan you intend to implement backfires.
  • Fourth step – Weigh evidence: think every option through to the end and visualize the possible outcomes, point out the most favorite one to implement and score them in the order of favorites.
  • Fifth step – Choose among alternatives: you have weighed the evidence and scored the favorites. Pick up the one that appeals most to you.
  • Sixth step – Take action: it is now time to start implementing the option you picked.
  • Seventh step – Review decision and consequences: this is the time to know if you really made the right choice and make the necessary adjustments to your implementation plan to make it work for you.

To better understand the various decision making techniques you can adopt whenever you have to make a decision, let us consider this question:

Critically examine the four decision-making techniques, identifying their strengths and weaknesses and rank them by order of preference.

Listed by order of preference, these are the four decision-making techniques with their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Nominal Group techniques (NGT)

This technique is quite useful among large groups that want to make decision quickly (e.g. by use of vote) but want to consider everyone’s opinion. They consolidate, analyze and vote upon/for individual ideas.


  1. Facilitates participation of all members, especially in groups where some members are more vocal than others.
  2. Some people generate ideas better when they are silent
  3. The technique facilitates generation of many ideas
  4. It is best used when deliberating upon controversial issues that may result into intense arguments
  5. Applicable in situations of power imbalance between the facilitators and the participants
  6. Best used in instances where the facilitators are after qualitative output
  7. The actual process saves time in most cases


  1. Lacks flexibility; dealing with one problem at a given time
  2. There must be a certain amount of conformity on part of the members involved
  3. Preparation for the actual process needs time

2. Brainstorming techniques

This is a group creativity technique by which the members exert efforts to find a solution to a particular problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.


  1. Encourages creativity
  2. Generates large number of ideas in one sitting
  3. Involvement of all members of the team fosters team spirit
  4. Encourages a sense of ownership
  5. Provides input to other tools, i.e. many ideas can be refined to specific ideas for easy implementation.


  1. Time consuming since many people have to compare their ideas
  2. Possibility of dominance where some members are politically/socially more powerful than their colleagues. An aggressive speaker may also overshadow other group members.
  3. Problematic where the technique to be used has to be discussed.

3. Delphi techniques

This is a modified Nominal Group Technique. It involves the use of experts in a panel. The panelists are total strangers to one another and do not sit in the same room.

They fill out questionnaires, which the moderators will later review at a central point. The experts then get the reviewed list to finalize and develop another questionnaire in case they develop new ideas.


  1. Avails expert opinion
  2. Re-evaluation of personal information provided in the questionnaires gives room for improvement
  3. Good method of generating long-term solutions to recurrent problems and complex situations


  1. Time consuming
  2. Expensive to hire the experts for the panel
  3. Possibility of dominance by prominent personalities in discussion and decision-making
  4. High variability in participant behavior and group social behavior
  5. The discussion may go off tangent (i.e. the panelists may go off the topic in their contributions)

4. Didactic techniques

This technique is applied only where the conclusion definitely results into a Yes/No situation. This therefore, requires extensive and exhaustive discussions including elaborate investigations since a wrong decision can have serious consequences.

There are two groups of panelists; one group analyzes the pros while the other the cons. They then interchange ant critique themselves and their counterparts


  1. Interchange of ideas will result into a mutual acceptance of the facts as they are
  2. Provides a room for examination of flaws of other group’s objectives
  3. Facilitates generation of many ideas


  1. Time consuming
  2. No argumentative observations since answers remain Yes/No
  3. Expensive since it involves extensive and elaborate discussions and investigations

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  1. HI,
    I was searching about the quality management system and came to your blog. And i got to know about bench marking sessions can you please give me more insight in it?

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