Total Quality Management: Empirical, Conceptual, and Practical Issues

By Hackman, J. Richard; Wageman, Ruth | Administrative Science Quarterly, June 1995 | Go to article overview

Total Quality Management: Empirical, Conceptual, and Practical Issues


Hackman, J. Richard, Wageman, Ruth, Administrative Science Quarterly


In recent years, total quality management (TQM) has become something of a social movement in the United States. This commentary returns to the writings of the movement's founders--W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Kaoru Ishikawa--to assess the coherence, distinctiveness, and likely perseverance of this provocative management philosophy. We identify a number of gaps in what is known about TQM processes and outcomes and explore the congruence between TQM practices and behavioral science knowledge about motivation, learning, and change in social systems. The commentary concludes with a prognosis about the future of TQM--including some speculations about what will be needed if TQM is to take root and prosper in the years to come.(*)

It has now been a decade since the core ideas of total quality management (TQM) set forth by W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Kaoru Ishikawa gained significant acceptance in the U.S. management community. In that decade, TQM has become something of a social movement. It has spread from its industrial origins to health care organizations, public bureaucracies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions. It has become increasingly prominent in the popular press, in the portfolios of trainers and consultants, and, more recently, in the scholarly literature.(1) Institutions specifically chartered to promote TQM have been established, and a discernible TQM ideology has developed and diffused throughout the managerial community. And, in its maturity, TQM has become controversial--something whose worth and impact people argue about.

Some writers have asserted that TQM provides a historically unique approach to improving organizational effectiveness, one that has a solid conceptual foundation and, at the same time, offers a strategy for improving performance that takes account of how people and organizations actually operate (Wruck and Jensen, 1994). A more skeptical view is that TQM is but one in a long line of programs--in the tradition of T-groups, job enrichment, management by objectives, and a host of others--that have burst upon the managerial scene rich with promise, only to give way in a few years to yet another new management fashion.

In this commentary, we provide a conceptual analysis of TQM that places these competing claims in perspective. We ask whether there really is such a thing as TQM or whether it has become mainly a banner under which a potpourri of essentially unrelated organizational changes are undertaken. We document how TQM activities and outcomes have been measured and evaluated by researchers and note some significant gaps in what has been learned. We explore the uneasy relation between behavioral processes that are central to TQM practice and mainline organizational scholarship about those same processes. And we conclude with an overall assessment of the current state of TQM theory and practice, including some speculations about what may be required if this potentially powerful approach is to take root and prosper in the years to come.

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TQM?

As is inevitable for any idea that enjoys wide popularity in managerial and scholarly circles, total quality management has come to mean different things to different people. There is now such a diversity of things done under the name "total quality" that it has become unclear whether TQM still has an identifiable conceptual core, if it ever did. We begin with a close examination of what the movement's founders had to say about what TQM was supposed to be, and then we assess how TQM as currently practiced stacks up against the founders) values and prescriptions.

Virtually everything that has been written about TQM explicitly draws on the works of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Kaoru Ishikawa, the primary authorities of the TQM movement (for a review, see Crosby, 1989). Rather than providing here a precis of their writings, we draw on them to determine whether there exists among them (1) a coherent philosophical position that specifies the core values to be sought in TQM programs and (2) a distinctive set of interventions (structures, systems, and/or work practices) that are intended specifically to promote those values. …

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