Total Quality Management in Local Government

By Kline, James J. | Government Finance Review, August 1992 | Go to article overview

Total Quality Management in Local Government

Kline, James J., Government Finance Review

Examples of total quality management at work in a variety of communities illustrate how the customer-service ethic made famous by Japanese manufacturers is being applied to local government operations in the United States.

Japanese economic success has been driven by the production of quality products, and the magnitude of their success has meant that quality is now the defining measure of economic competitiveness. American businesses in the early 1980s recognized that if they were to compete in a quality-driven world economy, they had to adopt methods of production and management that facilitated the development of quality products.

To provide better quality service, to deal better with fiscal stress and to improve efficiency, a growing number of city and county governments have adopted quality-oriented management processes. The research upon which this article is based indicates that there are more than 100 local governments in various stages of implementing such processes and the number is growing as exposure increases.

Process and Structure

The quality-oriented management process is known by various names. The Japanese call it total quality control. Other names are: total quality process, quality improvement process and total quality. The most common designation, in both the public and private sector, is total quality management.

Total Quality Management (TQM) is an organizational philosophy that stresses meeting customer requirements and expectations the first time and every time. This philosophy is implemented through the use of a management process which: 1) identifies and corrects problems by means of data, not opinions or emotions; 2) empowers employees and uses teams to identify and solve problems; and 3) continuously seeks to improve the entire organization's ability to meet or exceed the demands of internal and external customers. A key assumption is that 85 percent of the productivity and quality improvements in any organization result from improving the work systems and processes.

Each organization has molded TQM to fit its particular circumstances and needs. The administrative structures illustrated in this article represent the more formalized and comprehensive approaches that are being implemented. Regardless of the structure adopted, each TQM process contains a majority of the following elements: * top-level support and commitment, * a customer driven orientation, * employee involvement in productivity

and quality improvement efforts, * rewards for quality and productivity

achievement, * training in methods for improving

productivity and quality,

reducing barriers to productivity and

quality improvement, * productivity and quality measures and

standards that are meaningful to the

implementing department/unit, and * written vision or mission statements

which are linked directly to team-established

targets or goals.

The most common techniques (sometimes called quality tools or statistical process control techniques) used to determine where productivity and quality improvements can be made are brain-storming and multi-vote methods, Pareto charts, flow charts, scattergarms, histograms, run charts, control charts and surveys. Because many of these techniques were developed in manufacturing or production-oriented organizations, not all are fully applicable to other situations, such as service-oriented groups and government operations.

The administrative stages which link the quality tools with improvement recommendations and management implementation are symbolized by the acronym PDCA: plan, do, check, act. In the plan stage, a product or service is selected for examination, customers are identified and the work process analyzed to determine where changes need to be made. The do stage is where change is implemented on a small scale in selected areas within the organization. …

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