The Evolution of Total Quality Management

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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Until the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century, most goods were custom made. Industrialisation brought about a fundamental shift from cottage industry production to large scale manufacturing. Simultaneously, industrial activity underwent extensive mechanisation. As explained by Ho, ‘craftsmen were diminishing and being replaced by mass production and repetitive work practices.’ The aim with the new industrial era was to produce large numbers of the same product which required processes to be put in place to control quality as it could not be left up to individuals.

Cali explains that the shift away from the production of goods by individual craftsmen bought about the introduction of the assembly line between 1900 and1940 in America where products passed consecutively through various operations. Cali describes how ‘Standardisation became the trend’ adding that the prevailing management thinking at this time centred around keeping jobs simple and under close supervision. The expectation was that workers would meet standards only if closely supervised.

The 2nd world war played a key role in the evolution of TQM. Factories geared up for mass production and were split into functional departments. At the end of the war, America undertook the rebuilding of Japan’s shattered economy. Amongst the many Americans that were sent to Japan to support this effort was Dr W Edwards Deming. He was instrumental in convincing the Japanese to adopt the principles of industrial efficiency and thus the development of the TQM theory was born. He advocated a climate of ‘continuous improvement’. “Listen to me” Deming told the Japanese “…and in 5 yrs you will be competing with the West. Keep listening and soon the West will be demanding protection from you”.

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Using his TQM principles, firstly with manufacturing and then to sales and other areas, the Japanese gradually developed their own version of TQM so that by the 1970s, they had begun to dominate some of the manufacturing markets. Deming believed they had done this because they had learned a fundamental principle of TQM that was summed up by Deming: “Nobody except the Japanese understand that as you improve quality, you also improve productivity.”

During the 1970s, American’s position as the world’s foremost industrial power had begun to decline. For example, the U.S. share of the manufacturing market in 1970 was down to 17% from a high in the 1950s of 35% (Cali pg16). Brown believes that the reason for this decline can be partly explained by the way American companies practised the art of inspections in manufacturing products whilst their Japanese counterparts embraced the TQM consumer needs messages promoted by quality gurus including Feigenbaum who promoted the principle that “The total composite product and service characteristics … through which the product or service in use will meet the expectation of the customer” (Feigenbaum in Brown et al, 2000, pg 194).

The reaction by American firms to the success of Japanese was to adopt more of the principles taught by the American TQM gurus. Cali describes how ‘Many American companies achieved success by refocusing their attention on quality and by making satisfied customers their top priority.’

During the early days of manufacturing, inspections were seen as the best way to insure quality within a business. Ho explains that this is a process by which an operative’s work was inspected on a frequent bases and a decision was made on whether or not the individuals work was at a high enough standard. At the time this was seen as an acceptable way of insuring quality in a business, it become larger as the business grew and it created many inspection jobs.

However, often as a business progresses, problems can be more advanced and therefore require more technical skill which quite often inspectors did not have due to a lack of training. This resulted in inspectors ignoring problems with products in order to increase output, which obviously led to poor products giving the business a bad image.

So gradually, during the post-war years (as Cali explains) “… a sea change began taking place in American management philosophy.” as managers began to understand that work of employees needed to be acknowledged and that workers needed to be consulted if quality was to be improved.

In Deming’s book ‘Out of the Crisis’ he explains in his fourteen principles that inspection is not the way forward if a businesses is to ensure quality. He says “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place”

It is around the time that we begin to see the emergence of quality assurance with more emphasis focused on the training and development of staff, recording of data and the accuracy in which things were measured. Brown et all describes how “In the 1980s, leading-edge corporations sparked a revolution as they implemented Total Quality programmes across entire organisations. In such a programme the responsibility for quality is with the whole workforce. Each employee is responsible for the quality of their own job, their own actions. It could be said that responsibility for quality lies with 100% of the workforce.

Another TQM guru, Joseph Juran also influenced the thinking at this time by promoting the need for education and training in the workforce so there is no need for inspection. He added that quality should be about “Fitness for purpose or use”.

By the 1990s, TQM was becoming the buzz word in the global business world. Cali says in his introduction to TQM that “TQM is destined to become one of the most frequently used acronyms of the 1990s.” He went on to say that growing numbers of CEOs in the USA and abroad believed that TQM was the “…wave of the future.”

Part of the evolution of TQM practice was the use of statistical quality control. This was quality control by using statistical methods. It was first introduced by an American physicist and statistician called Walter A. Stewart, famously known as the ‘father of statistical control’. His work was later progressed by Deming who applied statistical control methods in America during World War 2; he applied his methods to many strategically important products thus improving the quality and output of manufacturing.

The term Statistical Quality Control (SQC) is used to describe the set of statistical tools used by quality professionals in modern quality management practice. An example of this method is Six Sigma. According to Motorola: “Six Sigma has evolved over the last two decades and so has its definition.” The UK Department for Trade & Industry explains that “Six sigma is a data driven method for achieving near perfect quality”. According to Berger, Six Sigma which began in 1986 as a statistically based method to reduce variation in electronic manufacturing processes in Motorola Inc is now considered to be the most popular TQM method in the history of TQM. Six sigma is an enormous brand in the world of corporate development. Today, more than 20 years on, Six Sigma is used as an all encompassing business performance methodology, all over the world, in organisations as diverse as local government departments, hospitals, banks and multi national co operations.

The establishment of modern day TQM tools and technologies such as Six Sigma brings the evolution of TQM full circle. We’ve seen that quality evolution has become the quality revolution. In a relatively short time many companies have chosen quality as a strategic goal. As noted in Tom Peters’ and Nancy Austin’s seminal work, A Passion for Excellence, explains that ‘…. winners compete by delivering a product that supplies superior value, rather than one that costs less’

We’ve seen from the Japanese that a focus on quality can bring success in terms of market share and profits. Companies in the West such as M & S and Mercedes Benz have shown that improved market share comes from doing the right things, all the time. Crosby very interestingly emphasizes the principle of "doing it right the first time" which means instead of having an inspection on quality, just make sure it is already up to scratch.

Cali believes that the ‘process of continued improvement’ was a key stage in the evolution of TQM. He suggests that the Japanese consider quality an integral part of product and process design. Cali adds “In the United States 20-25% of production cost goes to the quality assurance personnel who find and correct mistakes. In Japan, only 3 per cent of production cost is spent this way.” Cali explains that the Japanese use TQM methods by assigning the in-process inspection to individual production workers who complete elementary statistical analyses and are authorised to take basic corrective action. “The result is greater individual pride in workmanship and higher employee motivation” says Cali. . Surely this is the essence of TQM and brings the evolution of TQM full circle?

In conclusion, this discussion has attempted to explain how the evolution of TQM can be traced back to the early days of the industrial revolution with its principles of inspection and focus on measuring the product to the sophisticated systems for improving and managing quality which we have come to know today. The key point to conclude with is that the change in quality management culture from ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ to ‘if it ain’t perfect, continue to improve it’ was not sequential nor was it down to an individual guru or country but as this discussion has outlined it evolved more through a combination of developments in inspections, quality control, quality assurance and ultimately in the way these processes were managed and delivered.

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The Evolution of Total Quality Management. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from

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