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Explaining Total Quality Management (TQM)

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/31/2013

This article defines and explains TQM and how it is employed as a project management strategy.

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    What Is It?

    Picture courtesy of Stock.xchng Total Quality Management (TQM) is a methodology derived from Japanese industry. This method of quality control has been around since the 1950s. Like Six Sigma and other quality control methodologies, TQM is customer-based. In other words, the methodology looks to customers to define quality. Also, TQM depends upon a hierarchy; those in the top managerial positions of a company must implement and model TQM principles for employees. Finally, improvement is seen as a continuous, not a static, state of affairs. Each member of a team running TQM strives to consistently improve the product or service.

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    Principles and Key Components

    Total Quality Management contains its own system of productivity tools. The first three principles of TQM are as follows:

    • It requires everyone in the company to be completely involved and it covers all company activities.
    • It requires that the standards are set by customers, and that all practices conform to those requirements.
    • It requires that quality is monitored and controlled for optimum results.

    There are ten steps to total quality management. These ten steps are:

    1. New strategic thinking must be pursued. A great way to do this is to use brainstorming tools to come up with solutions to perceived problems.
    2. Know your customers - you must research their needs. Create a survey, gather the data, and determine who your customers are.
    3. Quality requirements will be set by your customers' requirements for quality.
    4. Prevention is key - correction costs too much money. By preventing quality problems in the future, the quality improvement process is more streamlined and less costly.
    5. Reduce waste and sources of waste - this step is held in common with principles from Lean Six Sigma. Waste is anything that does not contribute to the immediate needs of the project.
    6. The improvement strategy that your company pursues should be continuous. It would not make sense to start a quality improvement project only to quit after small successes.
    7. Improve processes through use of a structured methodology. By following a structure, you can minimize time figuring out how to improve processes or when to improve processes.
    8. Reduce any variation in your products or services.
    9. Balance your approach - make sure that one sector isn't receiving more attention than others.
    10. Apply the quality improvement process to all functions.

    Finally, you should be familiar with the process improvement sequence, known as PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action):

    • Plan - Planning a change in your company's processes involves three steps: First you must define the problem, then you must identify possible causes for the problem. Finally, you should evaluate possible causes through performing cause/effect analyses of the different problems that may arise.
    • Do - In this step, you implement the identified change.
    • Check - Gather data on the observed effects of the change. Determine what worked in the implementation process and what didn't work.
    • Action - Ensure that the improvement is implemented in the process for the future.
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    Applying TQM Strategies

    Total Quality Management lends itself well as a project management methodology. This process improvement strategy can help you to increase productivity and it benefits the quality of the products you offer customers and clients. The PDCA process lends itself well to project management methodology. By combining PDCA with the steps of planning a project, the likelihood of quality improvement success goes up. Finally, by creating a project charter, schedule, milestones, etc. for the TQM improvements being implemented, project managers can ensure that common project mistakes are thwarted.