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Total Quality Management - Lessons Learned in the USA

By Holder, Todd; Walker, Lorin | Management Services, July 1993 | Go to article overview

Total Quality Management - Lessons Learned in the USA

Holder, Todd, Walker, Lorin, Management Services

The Total Quality Management (TQM) movement is taking hold in the public and private sectors throughout the United States. This ubiquitous approach is now found in all types of organisations, including manufacturing, government, service industries, research and development and education.

Why is this attention to quality taking place in so broad a spectrum? The simple, but accurate, answer is competition. In the global economy of today, the quality of many American products and services does not always compare favourably to that of our foreign counterparts. Building quality organisations has become the response of many American institutions.

As research on TQM programmes accumulates, it becomes clear that the manner in which these programmes are implemented has a great deal to do with whether they add to or subtract from organisation productivity. There have been several obvious failures in recent months of companies that had invested heavily in TQM. One, Florida Power and Light Company, which had won the prestigious Deming Award, has recently questioned the overall value added by initiating TQM. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal reporting on a major study conducted jointly by the American Productivity Association and Ernst and Young, American companies who had initiated quality programmes were successful in only one third of the cases! Also, in 1991, The American Electronic Association (AEA) surveyed 300 electronic companies. Seventy-three percent of the companies reported having a TQM programme underway, but of these, 63 per cent had so far failed to improve on quality defects by even as much as 10 percent. Obviously, simply putting a TQM programme into effect does not guarantee that institutions or companies will be any more competitive than if they had not put one into effect.

From the research and from our own experiment with TQM at the Superconducting Super Collider (SSCL) near Dallas, Texas, we have tried to sort out the ingredients and, in some cases, the combination of ingredients it takes to make TQM work. We have been building a TQM programme here for over one year now, and have learned some lessons on what works and what does not.


In his book Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance(2) Thomas Gilbert provides a model for organisational productivity. The major reasons why people working together are either competent or incompetent are included in the model. We will use this model to organise the presentation of our thinking about TQM implementation.

In simple terms, there are three major sources of performance (see figure 1 overleaf)(figure 1 omitted): 1 Information, 2 Resources and 3 Motivation of the people involved. Both individual contributors and management bring resources to the organisational formula. When broken down into matrix cells, it is management's (informational) role to-1 make expectations clear as to what is to be done, and 2 to provide feedback on how well workers have performed. (Cell No 1). Management also is responsible for providing the necessary resources(Cell No 2) for completing the job (time, budget, equipment, authority, etc). If incentives are applied in appropriate ways productivity (motivation) can be enhanced (Cell No 3).

The employees also bring much to the productivity formula. The skills and knowledge they have learned (Cell No 4) are indispensable. Their capacity in the form of intellectual, emotional and physical natural resources, are also needed (Cell No 5). And the inherent motivation to do a good job sparks everything else (Cell No 6).

When the companies that have successfully made the adjustment to a quality organisation (eg Xerox, Motorola, Corning, and others) are assessed against this model, the sources of variance (see figure 2) can be traced to these six cells. If any are lacking, productivity will be lost. We are using the model as a convenient vehicle for presenting the sources of variance for successful TQM productivity.

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