Taking a Multivariate Approach to Total Quality Management

By Westbrook, Jerry D. | Industrial Management, March/April 1993 | Go to article overview

Taking a Multivariate Approach to Total Quality Management

Westbrook, Jerry D., Industrial Management

For the first few years of its existence, it was difficult, if not impossible to define TQM. A melange of terminology evolved from private consultants and government offices.

In no particular order of succession, Deming, Crosby and Juran experienced varying levels of success with disciplined approaches aimed at dramatically improving quality of products and services and of having the effect of dramatically improving productivity and other organizational attributes. Also, during the time of these successes, specific industries were reinventing several wheels, which resulted in phenomenal successes. Motorola and its six sigma quality program comes to mind. So also does Federal Express, Hewlett Packard, L.L. Bean and others that have undertaken remarkable levels of quality or service to customers. Each found success as a function to total dedication to quality as exhibited in many ways. The last "joiner" to be included is the federal government. The Department of Defense decided that its branches and contractors must have an active, progressive TQM program. As can be expected, many of these organizations confused TQM with other similarly motivated programs such as ManTech and Tech Mod, etc. Many organizations had no idea what TQM is and wanted to know how much of it they had to do in order to maintain or acquire funding. As a result, Washington printing presses worked overtime with an infinite series of bullet charts that explained exactly what was to be done.

Many problems developed when it was discovered that the bullet charts were developed using automobile manufacturing as examples and most contractors and agencies were service oriented and did not manufacture anything.

The net result of all of these activities, successes and progress was no small amount of confusion. While not implying that the author knows more than Deming, Juran, Crosby or anyone else who is succeeding in this tough global changing marketplace, there certainly does appear to be an opportunity to categorize activities and perhaps to expand areas of successes.

The first goal is to identify the attributes of TQM. As have many of you, I have read many cubic feet of TQM material. I believe that it can all be boiled down to six attributes, as follows:


--The successful organizations are characterized by employees who want to work together to solve their own and their customer' s problems. Culture has been identified as an organization's language, symbols and artifacts, patterns of behavior, basic underlying assumptions and subcultures. These forces are always present. They can greatly aid TQM implementation if they are exerting positive influences. Likewise, they can effectively counteract the best of systems.

* Customer Orientation--Successful organizations realize that if the customer does not succeed, neither will they. The customer is a partner to be worked with. The customer oriented organization advises the customer on better or more cost effective alternatives. And finally, the successful organizations realize that each person and unit of the organization has an internal customer to please and that this partnership is just as important as those with the external customers.

Teams--Every successful organization has learned to allow employees to work in teams. Many teams function within their own organizations while others are cross-functional. The contributions of most employees are limited. Teams, especially cross functional teams, have much more power. As the President of Eli Lily told his employees in the preamble to that organization's mission statement, "All of us are smarter than any of us."

* Problem Solving--The primary point here is not the ability to identify and solve a problem. That is the function taught in outdated industrial engineering curricula. Problem solving, rather, is a way of life; problem solving is continuous. Deming puts it well with his P-D-C-A wheel. "P" means plan the action; "D" means do the action, usually in a pilot project; C means check the results and compare them with expectations; and A to act to improve the process, then start the planning and the cycle over again. Problem solving is a central part of continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement--Continuous improvement is the heart of the successful organization. For too long U.S. managers have abided by the axiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Our competitors have been using continuous improvement on every part of every process, product, or service. In his book Kaizen, Imai points out there are two kinds of variables to consider: R variables and P variables. R variables are results oriented. They are the usually numerical goals we set for ourselves. They may be sales volumes, units sold, quarterly profits, etc. Most U.S. organizations and managers identify goals in terms of this type of R variable. The P variables, on the other hand, relate to the processes which impact on the R variables. Increasing the quality of an organization's services is a typical R variable. Identifying customer's needs for improvement is a P variable. Having teams of engineers meet with customers to determine needs could have a dramatic impact on service quality, much more than merely having a goal to improve the quality of service. P variables are the drivers of R variables. Continuous improvement is the driving force behind problem solving.

* Measurement--There is a great deal of discussion about measurement. Deming wants to measure quality without goals. He even goes so far as to refuse to assign grades to his students; most do not go that far. In the TQM context, measurement must be used to determine the current status of a process, product, service, etc. Measurement must be used to monitor the direction and trends to determine the effect of improvement efforts. According to Imai, it would be wise to measure both P as well as R variables. Measurement is a rapidly expanding area within TQM. Initially, statistical process control (SPC) was used in many creative ways to assist in process improvement. Now, design of experiments is being used effectively as is the mathematical cousin, Taguchi method of design of experiments.

Above is the list which is being suggested as the attributes of TQM. One of the most interesting observations is that each of the attributes is inextricably linked to the others, yet each seems to have a life of its own.

Measurement techniques will continue to evolve. Quality function deployment is a concept of meeting a customer's needs. All areas will evolve and yield successes for those sufficiently dedicated to make them work. It is easy to see that many articles could be written on any of the six attributes with easy linkages made to interrelationships with combinations of the others. The only major omission is that of training. Is training an attribute of TQM? My conclusion was that it is not. It is a necessary part of each and a very attribute but not an attribute itself. The current state of knowledge of the six attributes (abysmal may be too generous an adjective) and the expansion and evolution of the six TQM attributes indicates that training is likely to be the most valued activity of a serious TQM implementation.


Now that TQM is in an addressable format, it is possible to discuss its application. Many of the private consultants and government implementors I have had discussions which have indicated that all attributes of TQM are equally important. Also, the first attribute that needs to be addressed is usually measurement. Some engineering design organizations are having a difficult time deciding what to measure and just how significant can measurement be of a unique product or process? In the case of a unique design organization, can measurement be as important as relations to customers? Probably not. If some attributes are more important than others to certain organizations, how can an effective implementation scheme be designed? That is the very question that have sought to approach and suggest a form of a solution. Let us consider the organization that is the opposite to that of unique design, a commodities manufacturer. First, recognize that there is no such organization in the pure sense. But if it did exist, measurement would certainly be high on its list of early TQM implementation concerns. This argument can be further expanded to develop a continuum of organizations. A numerical priority for each of the six attributes could be developed for each level of the continuum. Figure 1 attempts to establish such a relationship. (Figure 1 omitted)

One of the most interesting observations initially made is that there are two sets of attributes. The first three attributes are far more significant to service and specialized industries, while the other three are more significant to commodity manufacturing and repetitive service industries. Unique design and similar organizations really need to devote time and attention to the establishment of a positive and supportive culture. It should then form partnerships with both external and internal customers. Teams can then be formed to attack identified problems and opportunities.

At this time in the implementation, measurement, problem solving and continuous improvement need to be addressed. Of course, we just defined two to five years of intensive work, including training. Since early successes were in manufacturing, it is logical that their methodology would be copied and applied to unique service industries. A manufacturer of similar products or one which renders similar services would follow the originally established procedures:

* Measurement;

* Problem solving;

* Continuous improvement; and

* Customers.

Many implementors omit effort at identifying and changing the organizational cultural entirely. This is a critical omission frequently associated with lack of progress or failure.

Perhaps Figure 1 can be considered as a general road map to a TQM implementation. It is not specific since no two organizations are alike. But, it just might prevent an organization from expending too much resources with too little results.


Engwall. Richard L., "IE Perspective and Expertise Needed in Defense Industry Productivity Efforts." Industrial Engineering, February 1984.

Imai, Masaaki. Kaizen, Mc Graw Hill Inc., 1986.

Tulkoff, Joseph. "MANTECH Program Aims to Make Factory of Future a Reality in Defense." Industrial Engineering, February 1984.

Ott, J. Steven. Organization Culture Perspective. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 1989.

Jerry Westbrook recently assumed responsibility for the engineering management programs at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. He also holds positions as director of distance learning and professor of industrial and systems engineering. He is a registered P.E. and holds a Ph.D. in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Polytechnical Institute and an M.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee. He is an IIE member.

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