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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). We’ll take a brief look at what it means, where it comes from, the main principles involved, along with some examples of how it is used in modern project management. 

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Total Quality Management defined

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.

The word “total” implies that all employees in the organization, from development to production to fulfillment, are obligated to improve operations. “Management” suggests that this methodology should be a focused effort.

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

total quality management
Factory workers analyzing production results in large industrial hall.

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 the practice of seeking continuous quality improvement had become synonymous with Japanese business techniques. In the late 80s and early 90s, US companies began importing Japanese ideas into their businesses, and the concept of Total Quality Management spread from there all around the world.

Key benefits of Total Quality Management

There are several potential benefits to TQM, but perhaps the most important are:

  • A stronger competitive position
  • Adaptability to changing or emerging market conditions, as well as to environmental and other government regulation
  • Higher productivity
  • An enhanced market image
  • The elimination of defects and waste
  • Reduced costs and better cost management
  • Higher profitability
  • Improved focus on customer satisfaction
  • Increased customer loyalty and retention
  • Increased job security
  • Improved employee morale
  • Enhanced shareholder and stakeholder value
  • Improved and innovative processes

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

The 8 core principles of Total Quality Management

Principle #1: Customer focus

When you understand your customers’ wants and needs, you can now work out which materials, people, and processes you need to put in place 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 to self-evaluate performance against personal goals and objectives. It’s important also to celebrate successes and improvements, 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 the formulation of 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 that an organization continually do this to improve decision-making accuracy and achieve consensus. 


Principle #8: Communications

Everyone in your organization needs to be clear on your goals, as well as the plans, strategies, and methods you are implementing to achieve them. Try to make sure 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, there are multiple examples of TQM we can find 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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