Quality Management in the Military: An Overview and a Case Study

Article excerpt

Over the past few years, national economic concerns and worldwide political upheaval have compelled the Department of Defense (DoD) to reshape its agency. Downsizing and budget trimming of the U.S. military began on a small scale in the late 1980s, echoing events in private industry. As the DoD found itself coping with monumental changes, Dr. W. Edwards Deming's principles of continuous improvement and other ideas on quality management were gaining national interest. These ideas attracted the attention of top DoD personnel, and became the basis for an agency-wide quality management initiative.

The Department of Defense first considered pursuing quality management about twelve years ago, well before anyone could predict the significant reductions in personnel and funding affecting the armed forces today. The principal mechanism for establishing quality management in the DoD has been Total Quality Management, or TQM, officially sanctioned by the agency in 1988. The Defense Department's approach emphasizes the Deming philosophy of continuous improvement, and borrows selectively from the principles of Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum, Shewhart, and others in outlining the systematic adoption of quality management practices. Since its inception, evidence of this new way to do business is evident in varying degrees from top management to the lowest field level operation.

History of Quality Management in the DoD

The quality improvement initiative in the military began in the early 1980s with the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center (NPRDC) in San Diego, CA, when it chose Deming's philosophy of continuous improvement for training its acquisition work-force.[1] In 1987, Dr. Robert Costello, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, issued a memo outlining how TQM could be implemented within the DoD. In March of the following year, then Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci released the DoD Posture on Quality, followed in October by a master plan for implementing TQM across the entire agency.[2] Within the guidelines of the master plan, individual organizations were given considerable leeway to implement quality management programs in a manner most appropriate to their particular function and needs.[3]

Quality Management Programs in the DoD

Manufacturing and repair operation were the first to successfully launch quality improvement in the Department of Defense. Using Deming's philosophy and techniques of statistical process control, naval shipyards, aircraft overhaul centers, and Army supply depots reduced turnaround time on repair and deliveries, increased customer satisfaction, improved reliability of work performed, and reduced overall costs.[4] In 1985, the Air Force announced its R & M 2000 program for increasing the reliability of newly acquired weapons systems and the ability to maintain them.[5] Although the DoD Master Plan for TQM implementation initially focused on acquisitions activities, it also clearly stated that the DoD would eventually adopt and practice continuous improvement throughout its entire operation.

Organizational Structure and its Effect on TQM implementation

By its very nature, the Department of Defense is a highly structured and autocratic institution. The hierarchical rank system on which it must depend to function properly is both an inherent and important element of the workplace culture; at the same time, this characteristic presents an obstacle to lateral and bottom up communication within the organization. Free flow of ideas in all directions is essential to the success of any quality management effort, and DoD organizations have a number of sources they can turn to for help in developing a strategy for quality improvement implementation. The AF Quality Center at Maxwell AFB, AL, the Federal Quality Institute, and private sector trainers, all experienced with implementing quality management within complex, highly structured organizations, assist the DoD and other federal agencies in their move toward quality improvement. …