Project-Focused Total Quality Management in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

By Cohen, Steven; Eimicke, William | Public Administration Review, September-October 1994 | Go to article overview

Project-Focused Total Quality Management in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation


Cohen, Steven, Eimicke, William, Public Administration Review


In this article, we describe and assess an effort to implement Total Quality Management (TQM) in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. We are not disinterested analysts in this process but are actively involved in the department's effort to fundamentally change its approach to work. We discuss the approach to implementing TQM that we developed with senior management in the parks department and provide an analysis of the costs and benefits of the first quality improvement projects implemented by the NYC Department of Parks.(1)

Total Quality Management: Definition and Rationale

Total Quality Management is a simple but revolutionary way of performing work. Total means applying to every aspect of work, from identifying customer needs to aggressively evaluating whether the customer is satisfied. Quality means meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Management means developing and maintaining the organizational capacity to constantly improve quality.

Total Quality Management at its core includes the following simple practices: (1) employees work with suppliers to ensure that the supplies used in the organization's work processes are fit for use, (2) employees continuously analyze work processes to improve their functioning and reduce process variation, and (3) they closely communicate with customers to identify and understand what they want and how they define quality (Cohen and Brand, 1993).

A Focus on Production in the Field

An important technique for improving the quality of the services delivered by government is to focus on production line operations and free workers up to implement the improved work processes they identify and develop. In this era of resource scarcity, one great untapped resource is each worker's knowledge and ingenuity applied to the process of performing work. Government's performance can be improved if human capital is leveraged more effectively through continuous improvement of operating processes and more effective group processes. The goal of improvement is to produce better and more goods and services with the same or fewer resources. Very few managers believe that they are given enough resources to do the work that they are asked to do. In the public sector, resource limitations are expected to get worse. Over the past several years, the NYC parks department has experienced substantial cutbacks and has been engaged in a creative struggle to maintain and even improve service delivery despite these severe cutbacks.

Why Is Worker Participation So Important?

Most large, complex organizations discourage people from analyzing their own performance. Why did the parks department begin to involve workers in what had always been management decision making? Not out of altruism, but because the department needed to know what only the day-to-day parks worker knows about the real work. TQM has enabled the department to tap this critical source of expertise by giving employees the methods for making their knowledge and experience available to identify and solve problems.

According to W. Edwards Deming, the originator of TQM, managers must "drive out fear from the work place' (Walton, 1986, p. 59). Over the past two years, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has begun to build a system that engenders an open discussion of failures as well as successes. The department has begun the process of focusing some of its analytical brainpower on the analysis of its own daily tasks.

The core of the TQM approach is the conviction that management must rely on their workers to analyze and come up with improved methods of performing rasks. Quality is improved by dissecting, step by step, how work is performed. To analyze work, Deming and others have advocated teaching workers to use a number of simple analytical and statistical tools. We agree that these tools are important. However, we believe that in the early stages of TQM, tools such as flow charts that facilitate the description of work processes are more important than statistical tools. …

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