The Ultimate Guide to Total Quality Management (TQM)

Your organization does good work. But, as a leader or a project manager, you feel like a lot of it rests on your shoulders. Up to this point, it’s been your responsibility to review everything carefully and make sure your company’s outputs meet your quality standards.

It’s working, but you know there has to be a better way. What if you could set up a system and a culture where everybody is invested in quality? What if you could refine processes that lead your team to consistently and reliably deliver top-notch work? 

It’s possible, and it’s a concept called total quality management. 

What is total quality management (TQM)?

To put it simply, total quality management (TQM) is a set of principles that helps organizations do their best work. 

It focuses on helping companies evaluate and refine their processes, with the ultimate goal of improving their outputs and delivering a high-quality customer experience. 

In many companies, managers and leaders accountable for the quality of work and the success of the organization. However, total quality management spreads the load more evenly. Since every employee is involved in delivering the work, they are also held accountable for its quality

What is the history of total quality management? 

Think total quality management is something new? Think again. This concept has some pretty strong historical roots.

Quality control has been around for ages. However, a mathematician and statistician named W. Edwards Deming is seen as the pioneer of the concept of total quality management.

He saw flaws in U.S. production, especially when it came to quality control. Deming thought it was odd that management controlled the production process, despite the fact the line workers were the ones who had boots on the ground — and, as a result, had far more insight into how an effective process should run. 

He lectured on this topic in Japan in the 1950s. Japan was receptive to the concept of total quality management and quickly began implementing it. 

Upon seeing the success of those efforts in Japan, total quality management spread across the rest of the world — eventually becoming commonplace in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Why is total quality management important?

Total quality management can feel like a difficult concept to wrap your arms around, and it’s tempting to write it off as another complex, academic subject that doesn’t have applications in the real world.

But that’s not the case. Many successful companies — like Toyota, Xerox, and Motorola — implement total quality management. 

Why? Well, because it can lead to a number of undeniable benefits, including: 

  • Higher-quality products and services: This is the obvious one. When you intentionally and mindfully manage a process with quality in mind, you improve your outputs. That’s the biggest benefit of total quality management — your team delivers top-notch work. 
  • Improved customer experience: A focus on the customer is a core principle of total quality management (which we’ll dig into in detail later). Keeping an eye on the needs of the end customer means you offer a better experience, leading to more loyalty, a better reputation, and even increased sales.
  • Greater efficiency: Total quality management also hinges on processes, and even more specifically, continuous process improvement. Regularly evaluating your organization’s workflows and identifying ways to refine and streamline them leads to greater efficiency and productivity. 
  • Boosted team morale: Employee involvement is another core piece of total quality management. Every single team member rallies around a shared goal and commits to achieving it. That level of togetherness can lead to positive team culture and better morale. 

See? Total quality management isn’t just a stuffy theory or a buzzword — it can have real, measurable, and important effects within your team and organization. Using collaborative work management software (like Wrike) can make the process easier and enable even greater productivity. More on that a little later! 

What are the total quality management principles?

Total quality management is about improving quality across the organization. But, it’s not quite as simple as saying, “Alright, we’re going to do a better job.”

Total quality management has a formal set of eight different principles it’s based on. Here’s a straightforward explanation of each of those concepts: 

1. Customer-centered

You can think your processes, products, and services are top-notch. But, your opinion means nothing if your customers aren’t satisfied and impressed with your offerings.

Organizations that implement total quality management always have the end customer in mind. They know their customers are the ultimate judges of whether or not their organization is of superior quality, and they refine their processes and offerings in the interest of the customer. 

2. Total employee involvement 

Remember when we mentioned that total quality management isn’t something handed down from on high? Rather, it involves every single member of the organization in achieving a goal and improving quality. 

This can mean several different things. First and foremost, companies need to provide clarity around their objectives. Secondly, they need to provide the training and resources employees need to do their work efficiently and effectively. Finally, a high degree of psychological safety means employees have the freedom to push themselves — without the fear of repercussions for failure. 

3. Process-centered 

Companies that implement total quality management don’t take a willy nilly approach to their work. Instead, there are prescriptive sets of steps and workflows for getting work across the finish line. 

These processes not only help them deliver more consistent work, but they also make production far easier to plan and monitor. That’s not to say these processes are set in stone. They’re constantly evaluated and improved upon. 

4. Integrated system 

Every company has various teams and departments responsible for different tasks. However, with a total quality management approach, these different groups can’t operate in their own universes. Total quality management emphasizes the importance of the links that connect these different departments and functions. 

To preserve and improve quality, an organization needs to work as a cohesive, integrated system — rather than a collection of various teams. This requires a high degree of transparency and an understanding of the processes and work of other departments. 

5. Strategic and systematic approach 

Imagine that you wanted to drive to Niagara Falls. Would you set out without any directions? Probably not, because you have no idea how to get where you want to go.

The same is true for an organization. Total quality management requires that a company creates a strategic plan. Even more than that, the strategic plan needs to emphasize the importance of quality and quality management. 

6. Continual improvement 

Companies that are invested in total quality management aren’t content to stick with the status quo. They’re constantly looking at ways to be better. 

This means evaluating processes, products, services, customer experience, employee feedback, and more to identify areas where you could improve. When you spot them, you need to address them and monitor them to ensure those changes actually benefited your work. 

7. Fact-based decision making 

There aren’t many gut decisions made by organizations that implement total quality management. That’s because this approach prioritizes making decisions based on facts and data. 

Companies need to gather, organize, and analyze data about their performance measurements and use that to make their decisions. Total quality management doesn’t rely on intuition or best guesses. 

8. Communications 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of effective communication on a high-performing team — and that’s why it’s a core principle of total quality management too. 

There needs to be clear and frequent communication across the entire organization to keep every employee in the loop on changes, operations, strategies, processes, and more. There’s no such thing as over-communicating. 

How does Wrike help with total quality management? 

Think total quality management sounds like a lot? It can be. But, rest assured, it’s not something that will be implemented overnight. Even taking small steps in the right direction can help you and your team improve your processes and work quality.

Need some help? Wrike can help you satisfy many of the core principles of total quality management for project management, including: 

  • Total employee involvement: With clear and automated task assignments, every employee knows what they’re responsible for.
  • Process-centered: Templated workflows allow you to create a process and easily repeat it for similar projects.
  • Integrated system: Wrike provides visibility into what every team is working on (and working toward).
  • Continual improvement: Wrike’s project status report will show you how projects are progressing and make it easy to spot sticking points in your processes. 
  • Fact-based decision making: Wrike offers a number of other reports to give you data about how your team is performing so you can make strategic decisions.
  • Communications: With the ability to leave comments, tag team members, attach files, and more, Wrike keeps all of your communication centralized in one place. 

With a total quality management system like Wrike in your corner, you can help your team deliver top-notch work — without any added stress or hassles.

Ready to jump in? Start your free trial of Wrike now.

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