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Total Quality Management (TQM): Definition, Principles & Examples

This article explores one of the most popular and widely imitated quality management philosophies, known as total quality management (TQM), and its meaning. 

We’ll briefly examine what it means, where it comes from, the main principles involved, and some examples of how it is used in modern project management. 

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Total Quality Management Definition

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a management technique based on the idea that all employees continuously improve their ability to provide on-demand products and services that customers will find of particular value. TQM relies on data-driven decision-making, teamwork, and supplier partnerships to achieve excellence and efficiency in an organization’s operations.

The word “total” implies that all employees in the organization, from development to production to fulfillment, must improve operations. “Management” suggests that this methodology should be a focused effort. It is not a passive or casual approach to quality improvement but a well-organized and structured management philosophy. TQM requires a strong commitment from leadership and a clear direction for the organization.

Put more simply, TQM is a management system where a company achieves organizational advancement through a commitment to customer requirements.

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A brief history of Total Quality Management

The roots of the principles and practice of TQM go back to the early 20th century and Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, which advocated a consistent method for performing tasks and inspecting finished work. 

In the 1920s, the industry began applying the concept of statistical process controls. Fast forward to Japan in the 1950s, when manufacturers in the country began to apply quality theory to production.  

By the 1960s, seeking continuous quality improvement had become synonymous with Japanese business techniques. Japanese companies, led by industry giants like Toyota, adopted various quality control techniques such as Kaizen (continuous improvement), Poka-Yoke (error-proofing), and Just-In-Time production, contributing to their exceptional product quality and efficiency.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, US companies started noticing the remarkable success of Japanese businesses and sought to learn from their methods. As a result, they began importing and incorporating Japanese quality management ideas and principles into their own operations.

The concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) gained significant popularity in the United States and started spreading to other countries around the world.

Key benefits of Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management (TQM) offers numerous benefits to organizations, including improved product and service quality, enhanced customer satisfaction, increased efficiency, and employee engagement. We selected the most important, which are:

  • A stronger competitive position: TQM differentiates organizations by delivering superior products and services, giving them a competitive edge in the market.
  • Adaptability to changing market conditions and regulations: TQM fosters a culture of continuous improvement, making organizations agile and responsive to market shifts and regulatory changes.
  • Higher productivity: TQM optimizes processes and reduces waste, increasing productivity and efficiency.
  • An enhanced market image: Organizations implementing TQM gain a positive reputation, building trust and confidence in the market.
  • The elimination of defects and waste: TQM emphasizes defect prevention and waste reduction, ensuring higher-quality outputs and cost savings.
  • Reduced costs and better cost management: TQM’s focus on efficiency leads to cost savings and improved resource management.
  • Higher profitability: TQM’s impact on productivity, cost reduction, and customer satisfaction contributes to increased profitability.
  • Improved focus on customer satisfaction: TQM prioritizes customer needs, resulting in products and services that better meet customer expectations.
  • Increased customer loyalty and retention: Satisfied customers are more likely to remain loyal, leading to long-term customer relationships.
  • Increased job security: TQM’s stability and success provide employees with increased job security.
  • Improved employee morale: TQM empowers employees, boosting morale and motivation in the workforce.
  • Enhanced shareholder and stakeholder value: TQM’s positive impact on performance and reputation benefits stakeholders and shareholders.
  • Improved and innovative processes: TQM fosters a culture of innovation, leading to the adoption of creative and effective processes.

Most of these benefits derive directly from the eight core principles of Total Quality Management, which we explore in the next section: 

Disadvantages of Total Quality Management

Besides Total Quality Management (TQM) numerous benefits, we advise also looking at and acknowledging potential disadvantages.

Some of the disadvantages of TQM include:

  • Time and Resource Intensive: Implementing TQM requires a significant commitment of time, effort, and resources, which can strain an organization’s capacity and budget.
  • Resistance to Change: Employees and stakeholders may resist the changes associated with TQM, making it challenging to achieve full buy-in and successful implementation.
  • Potential Employee Burnout: The relentless focus on continuous improvement and rigorous data-driven processes can create high-pressure work environments, leading to employee burnout and reduced morale.
  • Misinterpretation and Misapplication: Misunderstanding TQM principles or applying its techniques incorrectly can lead to ineffective implementation and failure to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Narrow Focus: Concentrating solely on TQM may result in neglecting other critical aspects of business strategy, such as innovation or long-term strategic planning.

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The 8 core principles of Total Quality Management

At its core, TQM is guided by a set of fundamental principles that serve as the foundation for successful implementation. These are:

Principle #1: Customer focus

When you understand your customers’ wants and needs, you can now work out which materials, people, and processes you must implement to meet and exceed their expectations.

To implement this principle, you must research and understand your customers’ needs and expectations, align your organization’s objectives with those needs, measure customer satisfaction and ask for customer feedback that you can use to drive improved processes. 

Principle #2: Total employee commitment

Your employees need to understand your company’s vision and goals. More than that, you must ensure they are trained and given the resources they need to complete tasks and retain their motivation.  

To achieve this principle, you must clearly communicate your goals, encourage each team and individual to accept ownership and responsibility for problems and self-evaluate performance against personal goals and objectives. Celebrating successes and improvements is important, as this helps build employee confidence and commitment. 

If you set out clear responsibilities and provide the necessary training, you can also then create an environment where employees can openly discuss problems and suggest ways to solve them.

Principle #3: Adhere to processes

It’s essential to ensure that everyone in the organization takes the proper steps at the right time to ensure consistency and speed up production. Implementing this principle means you need to measure and analyze your current processes to look for potential improvements or bottlenecks to remove. You also need to evaluate the impact your processes could have on all your stakeholders, from customers to suppliers to employees.

Principle #4: Promote an integrated system

This means you must break down whatever silos are in your business. In a truly integrated system, every individual in every department should understand all relevant policies, standards, objectives, and processes. This helps more effective collaboration and the drive toward continual improvement.  

Principle #5: A strategic and systematic approach

This is another critical part of TQM and helps to achieve an organization’s vision, mission, and goals. This process, called strategic planning or strategic management, includes formulating a strategic plan that integrates quality as a core component.

Principle #6: Continual improvement

Continuous improvement is about improving processes and adapting products and services to reflect shifting customer needs. To implement this principle, you should implement policies to establish product, process, and system improvements as measurable goals at the individual, team, and department levels. You also need to recognize and encourage innovative solutions to problems, partly by encouraging employees to upskill themselves and take on enhanced responsibilities. 

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Principle #7: Fact-based decision making

To know how well an organization is performing, it needs to collect and analyze data on its performance. TQM requires an organization to improve decision-making accuracy and achieve consensus continually. 


Principle #8: Communications

Everyone in your organization must be clear on your goals and the plans, strategies, and methods you are implementing to achieve them. Try to ensure that everyone in your organization understands their roles and how they fit in with the rest of the company. Involve employees in decision-making where you can, and communicate all your updates, policy changes, and news as often as possible. 

Examples of Total Quality Management

When planning and implementing a TQM, there is no one solution for every situation or workplace. Each organization is unique in terms of its culture, people, and processes, and so the strategy can vary from company to company. 

Because of this, we can find multiple examples of TQM within modern approaches to quality management. Here are some of those examples:

  • The TQM element approach strategy. This takes key business processes and/or organizational units and uses TQM tools to drive improvements. Specific examples include quality circles, statistical process control, Taguchi methods, and quality function deployment.
  • The guru approach strategy. This approach uses the teachings and writings of leading quality thinkers as a guide to determine where the organization has deficiencies. Examples of this include Deming’s 14 points or Crosby College.  
  • The organization model approach strategy. individuals or teams visit organizations that have taken a leadership role in TQM and model their processes for success, adapting them to suit their organization. This method was used widely in the late 1980s and is exemplified by the initial recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
  • The Japanese total quality approach strategy. Using this approach, you examine the detailed implementation techniques and strategies employed by Deming Prize-winning companies and develop a plan to use in your organization. 
  • The award criteria approach strategy. This approach focuses TQM implementation on meeting specific award criteria, whether that’s the Deming Prize, the European Quality Award, or the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

What to do next

Now you know more about the Total Quality Management approach to project management, why not browse our ever-expanding library of project management resources? Or download our Ultimate Project Management Guide

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Frequently asked questions

  • What is TQM in operations management?

    TQM in operations management is about optimizing processes for efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction. It involves continuous improvement, employee involvement, and data-driven decision-making to deliver better products and services. TQM creates a culture of excellence, making organizations more competitive and successful in the market.

  • What is TQM in project management?

    TQM in project management is a customer-focused approach that aims for continuous improvement and high-quality outcomes. It involves data-driven decision-making, risk management, and employee empowerment to deliver successful projects that meet or exceed client expectations.

  • What companies use TQM?

    Here are key five examples of Total Quality Management (TQM) implementation in various industries:

    Toyota Production System: Toyota’s renowned TQM approach, also known as the Toyota Way, emphasizes continuous improvement, waste reduction, and employee empowerment. It has been instrumental in making Toyota one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers.

    Motorola’s Six Sigma: Motorola pioneered the Six Sigma methodology, which is a data-driven approach to process improvement aiming to reduce defects and improve quality. Six Sigma has been widely adopted by various organizations across industries.

    Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: Ritz-Carlton is known for its commitment to exceptional customer service. By integrating TQM principles, the company ensures consistent quality and customer satisfaction across its luxury hotels and resorts.

    FedEx: FedEx, a global courier delivery services company, implemented TQM to enhance its operational efficiency and customer service. TQM practices have played a significant role in establishing FedEx as a leader in the logistics industry.

    Indian Railways: Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest railway networks, adopted TQM to improve safety, efficiency, and passenger satisfaction. The implementation of TQM principles has resulted.

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