Ten Reasons Why TQM Doesn't Work

Article excerpt

It's not that quality shouldn't be a focus of business operations, it's just that quality operations often become so cumbersome that they overshadow the real reason a company is in business.

Many managers are beginning to rethink their love affair with TQM. By TQM I mean all those programs promising big boosts in quality, and yes, I know the title of this article could get me into trouble. Somebody's bound to trot out a TQM program that has achieved incredible results. No doubt successful programs exist. But for every success story, 1'11 show you two disappointments, or more. Put together all the independent research conducted by consulting firms Arthur D. Little, Ernst & Young, Rath & Strong, McKinsey & Co., and A.T. Kearney, and you come up with the conclusion that only about one-fifth--at best one-third--of TQM programs in the United States and Europe have achieved "significant" or even "tangible" improvements in quality, productivity, competitiveness or financial returns. This is a frightening conclusion given the hype that has accompanied TQM for years. It's even more serious given the fact that three-quarters of reasonably sized American firms claim to have invested in some form of TQM.

The findings themselves no longer surprise me, and that doesn't make me special. Managers are beginning to realize TQM is not synonymous with quality. Quality is essential for organizational success and competitive advantage. TQM is only one of many possible means to attain quality. In other words, quality is sacred; TQM is not. There's another difference: As we shall see, quality is about unbending focus, passion, iron discipline and a way of life for all hands. TQM is about statistics, jargon, committees and quality departments.

Yes, of course, the two concepts sometimes converge, but there are at least 10 reasons why they are likely not to. The remainder of this article is a frank attempt to explain the disquieting research findings cited above. In that spirit, let me propose 10 reasons why TQM programs often don't work even in organizational environments that desperately cry out for quality improvements.

1. TQM focuses people's attention on internal processes rather than on external results.

Despite all the lip service to the contrary, the actual day-to-day mechanics of most TQM programs hypnotize--if not require--managers and nonmanagers to become internally focused, even as all the action is happening externally. Consider the preoccupation with internal performance measurements, conformance indices and technical specifications. That preoccupation inevitably diminishes managers' attention to external factors like constantly shifting perceptions and preferences of customers, as well as all the marketplace choices available to them, all the technological advances occurring that might positively impact them, and all the potential product and service enhancements they might respond to. Thus, what an internally focused company actually does may result in a product or service that in the eyes of the customer is outdated, blandly conventional, insufficient or just plain irrelevant. As one manager told a colleague of mine: "Before we invested in TQM, the rap on our company was that we churn out poorly made products that customers don't want. Now, after TQM, things have changed. We now churn out well-made products that customers don't want."

I've noticed another insidious consequence of this internal focus. It is difficult to sell TQM to nonmanufacturing, nonoperations groups like sales, marketing, design, engineering and, for that matter, anyone in any organization who is providing intangible services. These are people who could and should be influenced by strategies to add value to end-users, which is the ultimate goal of real quality anyway. Since TQM activities don't explicitly address this issue, they often are perceived by these in-house professionals as only marginally relevant to their concerns, and rightfully so. …

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