Parallel Processing: A Design Principle for System-Wide Total Quality Management

Article excerpt


Total quality management (TQM) based on parallel information processing design principles is observed in inter-firm systems which integrate and mobilize the core competencies of a wide array of teams and organizations to rapidly and effectively solve complex problems, such as those encountered during the design, production and delivery of complex goods and services.

As a design principle, parallel processing deals primarily with how to create processes and systems which achieve the shortest possible cycle times. In production this may be achieved by designing small-lot continuous-flow systems (Wolf and Taylor 1991). This requires system-wide use of TQM for operational process control and improvement. Shorter cycle times in product development require use of more powerful tools for re-engineering product/process systems. This is achieved through system-wide use of TQM methodologies such as quality function deployment, value analysis and engineering and other tools designed to harness simultaneous engineering capabilities throughout the supply chain.

As a general proposition, the extent to which a system can be considered parallel depends on its ability to redesign itself in response to changing performance requirements as defined by the system's internal and external customers. This is expressed in this paper as the depth and breadth of product/process improvement capability. The depth is the extent to which the system is capable of product/process improvement at the level of the individual, or the individual team -- such as the degree of employee involvement and empowerment for continuous improvement or the degree to which TQM methodologies have been mastered. The breadth is the extent to which these TQM capabilities have been extended to include all individuals, teams and organizations in the system -- including suppliers, customers, competitors and other organizations such as government and special interest groups (Schonberger 1990).

The Foundations of System-Wide TQM in Japan

The centrality of parallel processing as a core design principle for TQM is evident in the way in which parallel processing co-evolved with TQM in the particular context of postwar Japan (Emery and Trist 1965, Nishiguchi 1987, Porter 1990).

After World War II, with its industry in ruins, and with a purge of many of the senior members of Japan's military-industrial complex, a new generation of industrialists and managers turned to the expertise of the Allied Command, which had its own incentive to upgrade Japan's industrial capability just to maintain its own administrative viability. Japanese business and educational leaders saw the need for better quality management across the entire industrial system to strengthen the foundations for exportled economic development. The superior industrial capability of the United States had been amply demonstrated and served as the model for Japanese reconstruction.

The foundations for system-wide TQM were laid as the concepts and techniques of statistical quality control became absorbed and diffused in the period immediately following World War II. In 1945, the first week-long course on quality control was offered by W. G. Magil, Civil Information Division of the Allied Occupation Forces. The purpose was to improve the communications system which was needed by the Occupation Forces (Kondo 1988, p. 35F.2). The Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) was formed in 1946, providing a nucleus for further quality management education throughout Japanese industry (Kondo 1988). In 1950, JUSE invited W. E. Deming to visit Japan, where he taught in JUSE's 8-day course on quality control and held seminars for senior managers (Deming 1982). The system-wide adoption of TQM expanded beyond variance in manufacturing processes in 1954, when J. M. Juran visited Japan to develop courses for middle and senior managers in 1955. By 1961, companies winning the Deming Prize had applied quality management broadly throughout their organizations, including designing, manufacturing, inspection, sales, purchasing and administration (Kondo 1988, p. …


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