An overview of the TQM literature, The

evolution of quality management: An overview of the TQM literature, The

Harris, C R

The success of Japanese competitors in North American and European markets has long been attributed to the superior quality of their products (Feigenbaum, 1984; Lee & Ebrahimpour, 1985; Mito 1982). Various initiatives have been proposed to enable Western businesses to attain these levels of quality, including quality circles, total quality control, and, most recently, total quality management (TQM).

This paper is based on an extensive literature review of the area of TQM. Early approaches to quality management are reviewed first. The evolution of TQM from these approaches is then summarized. The diffusion of TQM through various parts of the economy is described, along with the problems and criticisms that were made during the process. Lastly, the aspects of TQM that have received attention in the academic literature are summarized, and areas that could benefit from further study are suggested.

Early Quality Management Initiatives

Formal efforts to improve quality management have been undertaken in North America since the late 1970s, in response to increasing competition, particularly from Japanese firms. The first step for many North American companies was to break the pattern of assigning quality management to a quality department, which had reduced the quality function to one of control, largely through inspection. The deficiencies of such an approach were noted by people such as Juran and Deming shortly after the Second World War, but have only begun to be addressed in North America in the last two decades.

The first attempts to improve the management of quality used quality circles to attack the need for training in traditional quality control techniques and for employee involvement. Quality circles were not generally very successful in Europe or North America (Hayward & Dale, 1984; Hill, 1991).

In assessing the failure of quality circles, two requirements of a successful approach to quality management became clearer. First, to be effective, quality management could not remain the concern of the production department, but must be the concern of all departments. It was also recognized that obtaining the full benefits of statistical quality control even within a production department required a change in the traditional role of the employee. This change is variously labelled as employee involvement, participative management, or empowerment (Haley, 1985; Stein, 1991). The change recognizes that it is not sufficient to train groups of people in traditional quality control techniques. They also need training in broader, problem-solving methods, and in team management skills.

The next step in the development of quality management was to address the need for quality control to be a company-wide exercise. The concept of company-wide quality control, often known as total quality control, was diffusing into North America by the early 1980s (Furukawa, Ikeshoji, & Ohmori, 1984; Hattori, 1984; Karatsu, 1982). This was the approach used by many companies in the mid-eighties. The use of total quality control in areas other than the production department brought to light problems in defining quality since quality management had moved outside the manufacturing plant walls, beyond the product and its direct production processes (Tenner, 1991).

TQM uses the idea of a customer focus, on either an internal or an external customer, to provide a framework for assessing quality. As the need for a focus on the customer and the important role of employee involvement in successful quality management became clear, the term TQM began to replace total quality control. The concept of a customer focus, and the development of traditional quality control techniques for use outside the production area, made TQM applicable to both service industries (Hattori, 1984; Kunishi, 1984; Milakovich, 1991) and government agencies (Hyde, 1992a, 1992b; McCabe & Lewin, 1992). It was adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense in the mid-eighties (McCarthy & Elshennawy, 1991), and spread particularly rapidly in the healthcare field in the U.S. at the same time (McCarthey, 1991; McConnell, 1992; Rago & Reid, 1991).

Gurus and Awards

In North America, the so-called quality gurus have been instrumental in diffusing TQM (Jackson, 1990), while in the U.K., the government has taken the initiative (Lascelles & Dale, 1989b). The best known proponents of quality management are Deming, Juran, Crosby, and Feigenbaum. Unlike earlier quality initiatives, TQM is not tied to one particular author, whereas the quality control circle concept is attributed to Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, of the University of Tokyo (Juran, 1967), and total quality control is strongly associated with A.V. Feigenbaum, who wrote about it as long ago as the early 1950s, under the title Quality Control: Principles, Practice and Administration.

Three authors, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Philip Crosby, are regarded as the philosophers or gurus of quality. A brief biography of each man and a critical comparison of their different approaches is given in Evans and Lindsay (1993, ch. 4). Deming (1986) calls for a complete change in corporate culture in order to achieve high levels of quality. His view is that poor quality comes from variability, and that most sources of variability can only be affected by changing systems that are management’s responsibility. Deming’s approach calls for a radical change in the roles of both managers and employees to induce more cooperation and “drive out fear.” Juran’s (1981) approach is directed at a firm’s management, and is much more compatible with current North American management practices. Like Deming’s approach, it also assumes that the major opportunities for improving quality lie in management’s hands, and that employees are constrained by systems that they do not control. However, Juran advocates specific steps for improving quality–such as gathering data to identify where improvement is required, using Pareto analysis, diagnosing the cause of a problem, and identifying the solution–that do not call for alterations to managers’ philosophies. Crosby’s (1979) approach is quite different. He focuses on altering attitudes and behaviours of the workforce, since he attributes quality problems to a lack of standards and attention to detail among employees.

In addition to the efforts of Deming, Juran, Crosby, and others, the establishment of the Baldrige Award in the U.S. (Easton, 1993; Garvin, 1991), and the Canadian Award for Business Excellence has heightened awareness of TQM. Furthermore, the formulation of the ISO 9000 standards has forced many firms that export to Europe to increase the attention they pay to quality, and made them more aware of TQM.

The Growth of TQM

The TQM literature has been growing rapidly, although it appears to have levelled off recently. Figure 1 (omitted) shows the number of articles found using “total quality management” in a keyword search of the ABI Inform database for 1989-1994. Much of the volume of the TQM literature is taken up by articles prescribing its use for a wide variety of organizations. The recent leveling off of may be due, in part, to increased attention to ISO 9000 standards and new initiatives such as business process reengineering. Although the majority of the TQM literature is still consists of prescriptions of TQM, rather than descriptions of implementations, the experience some individual companies have had in implementing TQM has been described in some detail.

Prescriptions for TQM stress the need for an ongoing commitment to the program. Continuous improvement efforts and TQM are often linked, and the relationship between the two initiatives is not clear. Efforts to bring a continuous improvement philosophy to organizations have been labelled both subsets of TQM programs, and as encompassing TQM (Fortuin, 1988).

TQM has been broadly prescribed for North American and European companies by many authors. Unlike other quality management approaches, TQM has been recommended for many parts of the service sector, both private and public. The emphasis that TQM places on quality across the functional areas of the company has led to TQM being prescribed for and implemented in individual functional areas. Table 1 (omitted) presents a selection of papers prescribing TQM and describing TQM implementations. The prescriptions are divided into broad prescriptions, prescriptions for the service sector, for functional areas, and for academia. (Several authors have suggested that academia could benefit from TQM, but applying TQM in an academic setting centre must overcome two major difficulties: defining the customer and defining quality.) Implementations are divided into those in the manufacturing sector, the service sector, the public service sector, and functional areas.

Although a significant portion of the TQM literature is devoted to defining and prescribing TQM, there is no single definition of TQM. However, a core of principles may be identified. I compared a sample of 16 articles describing TQM implementations to the academic literature on measuring quality management. The articles were examined to see which aspects of TQM were emphasized by each organization (see Table 2)(omitted). The sample indicates that continuous improvement of processes, a focus on the customer, teamwork, and top management commitment were the factors given most often as critical aspects of TQM, with education and training also frequently mentioned.

Measurement of TQM

Saraph, Benson, and Schroeder (1989) surveyed the quality literature and developed one of the first instruments for assessing quality managements that was field tested for validity and reliability. Their instrument (the SBS instrument) is based on the work of Crosby, Deming, Garvin, Juran, Ishikawa, and others, and is meant to be used in both service and manufacturing organizations. Flynn, Schroeder, and Sakakibara (1994), relying on Schonberger and Garvin, as well as the work of Saraph et al. (1989), developed a framework for quality management in a manufacturing firm, and a measurement instrument (the FSS instrument). They tested the FSS instrument on three industries in the manufacturing sector and found it to be both valid and reliable.

Table 3 (omitted) compares the components of the SBS instrument, the FSS instrument, and the most frequently cited components of TQM in the survey from Table 2. The earlier SBS instrument does not include a component related to the customer, while the FSS instrument does not refer to training, both of which are commonly mentioned as key elements of successful TQM implementations. On the other hand, the TQM case studies in the sample usually do not identify supplier integration, quality information, or product/service design as critical components of TQM.

The differences between the two instruments can be attributed to the increasing emphasis on a customer focus since the first instrument was developed prior to 1988. The difference between the elements found in the sample and those in the instruments may be attributed to the fact that many of the companies were in the first three years of their TQM efforts at the time the articles were written. In the early stages of TQM adoption, managers’ and employees’ shift in focus from results to process, from bottom line considerations to the customer, and from individual efforts to teamwork, will present major challenges to the firm.

Problems and Criticisms

The heavy promotion of TQM as a new management philosophy in a wide variety of forums has attracted criticism and warnings from several sources. Criticism of TQM takes two forms: outright rejection of the movement as a fad, usually in the business press (Fife, 1992; Waldie, 1994), and concerns about specific aspects of TQM.

Specific concerns can be grouped under two main headings. First, there are those who feel that TQM’s emphasis on incremental fine tuning rather than innovation does not go far enough in making the changes that some firms may require (Chorn, 1991; Lawler, 1994). A different view holds that firms have unrealistic expectations of what TQM can do for them (Easton, 1993; Tickel, 1993; Walter, 1993).

Opposed to both these views are Grant, Shani, and Krishnan (1994), who view TQM as a radical alternative to traditional management techniques, which are based on an economic model of the firm. They suggest that TQM efforts may fail because management simply fails to recognize the extent of change required by TQM. Lack of management commitment is also the primary reason for problems and outright failures cited by both researchers reporting on case studies (Dale & Lightburn, 1992; Lascelles & Dale, 1990), and authors speaking from their experience as consultants (Clemmer, 1991; Cyr, 1992). In support of their contention that TQM requires radical change, Grant et al. (1994) point out the changes required simply to introduce Statistical Process Control (SPC) in an organization, a much smaller change than adopting TQM. SPC focuses attention on a firm’s processes in order to improve quality, and places information about the process and its variation in the hands of the operator. Bushe (1988) gives specific examples of the way in which providing such information can shift power in an organization and the way these shifts can be resisted by managers.

Blackburn and Rosen (1993) also compare TQM to traditional management, with a focus on human resource management. They stress the fundamental nature of the change required to move from the traditional paradigm to TQM and discuss the differences between the two approaches with regard to communications, voice and involvement, job design, training, performance measurement and evaluation, rewards, health and safety and selection/promotion career development.

Lawler (1994) compared TQM and employee involvement, suggesting that TQM will not be appropriate for companies that require a radical, discontinuous organizational change, rather than an incremental improvement of existing operations. He points out that TQM tends to accept the existing organizational hierarchy and feels that it probably overestimates the ability of senior management to produce change in a company through leadership. Waldman (1993) has also called into question the assumption of several TQM proponents that managers can simply exercise leadership as required. His framework recognises that what leadership can achieve is contingent upon the corporate culture.

Proponents of Business Process Reengineering also view TQM as an incremental way of improving a firm’s performance. Business Process Reengineering is proposed as a radical alternative to TQM, and as a means of achieving breakthrough results rather than continuous improvement, by redesigning processes, such as materials management, and dissolving the functional silos that tend to form in organizations (Baston, 1993; Teng, Grover, & Fiedler, 1994).

The most thorough analysis of where companies succeed and where they fail in implementing TQM is provided by George Easton’s (1993) analysis of Baldrige Award applicants. He endorses Grant et al.’s (1994) view that senior managers frequently fail to grasp the extent of the differences between TQM philosophy and traditional management philosophy. He also identifies a continuing focus on results rather than process, and lack of supporting quality information, as impediments to the complete adoption of TQM. Other authors have pointed out specific problems that firms can expect to encounter when implementing TQM, including difficulty in setting standards (Hyde, 1990), lack of appropriate cost information(Porter & Rayner, 1992), an inappropriate industrial focus because of its history in the manufacturing sector (Swiss, 1992), and cynicism induced by the apparent obviousness of TQM (McConnell, 1992). Crosby (1992) himself, has criticized TQM for failing to redirect management’s attention from financial measures to quality measures.

Academic Research in TQM

Three aspects of TQM have received more than passing attention from academic researchers. The earliest work concentrated on the question of the degree to which quality management was dependent on the culture of the workforce (Ebrahimpour, 1985; Ebrahimpour & Lee, 1988; Forker, 1991; Lee Ebrahimpour, 1985; Lewis, 1992; Oliver & Wilkinson, 1989). The research suggests that North American management will have to change its practices, and increase its commitment to quality, to obtain the benefits of TQM. Garvin (1986) studied quality management in U.S. and Japanese room air conditioner manufacturers, and found not only that attitudes and policies about quality differed, but that the two countries faced a different mix of quality problems because of their different performance with respect to quality.

A second area that has been investigated is the information system requirements for supporting TQM. Chang and Lin (1991) used quality functional deployment (QFD) and data flow diagrams to build a model of quality in a service facility. Franz and Foster (1992) developed a decision support system to help senior management choose TQM techniques tailored to the needs of their firms. Riehl (1988) analyzed the ways in which computer based technology, particularly telecommunications, can support Deming’s 14 points. Savage and Tannock (1989) developed a prototype quality information database to support the need for information on quality in organizations adopting TQM.

The third area is the issue of appropriate measurement and assessment of performance when TQM is implemented. The characteristics of an appropriate measure of performance are described by Fortuin (1988). Fisher (1992) studied traditional and non-traditional performance indicators in four Australian companies. He found that although TQM had a significant impact on operations, that impact could not be tied to any improvement in the traditional measures, such as return on investment. Another aspect of measurement that a TQM program must address is the cost of quality. Feigenbaum suggested categorizing costs of quality into three groups, those associated with prevention of defects, those associated with appraisal of quality, and costs of failure (Feigenbaum, 1983). His approach is often included in production and operations management courses (see for example, Adam & Ebert, 1989, p. 519; Krajewski & Ritzman, 1993, p. 96; Schroeder, 1993, p. 105). Porter and Rayner (1992) looked at the limits of this categorization scheme, and developed some process cost models as an alternative. These models are similar to the activity-based accounting that Steimer (1990) suggests for firms implementing TQM.

There are several open problems associated with a full understanding of how companies can successfully adopt TQM, and what they can expect from such an effort. One area that has received some attention is the question of appropriate measures of success, particularly measures that would make it possible to compare the success of TQM across firms. High-level measures, such as profitability, are difficult to tie to specific programs (Fisher, 1992). One alternative, to ask companies to rank their success on a questionnaire, is open to the objection that one is then dealing only with perceived success, rather than an objective measure.

A second area that needs to be better understood is the reasons that cause TQM implementations to fail. The usual reason given is lack of management commitment. This is the reason given for the failure of other productivity improvement programs, such as quality circles or JIT (just-in-time). It is possible that the amount of change that management can induce in an organization is sometimes overestimated. It may be that companies with successful TQM efforts acted consistently with their corporate cultures, whereas companies with unsuccessful TQM efforts attempted to change their cultures radically.

This brings to light another area that deserves attention, the different nature of TQM initiatives across firms. As was said earlier, TQM differs from some other productivity enhancement efforts in that it is not tied to a particular author. The quality philosophers, Deming, Crosby, and Juran, differ significantly in their approaches to quality management. This leaves open the question of how much commonality there is in programs that go by the name TQM in different firms, and what kinds of differences exist. Since each of the approaches has been used successfully, it may be worthwhile to know what contingent factors determine the appropriate choice.


Over the years, researchers and industry observers have pondered the problem of declining productivity growth rates in a cross section of North American industries. Attempts to address this problem have led to various management initiatives designed to improve productivity. There is now a consensus that improved productivity cannot be obtained without improving quality. This has led to a surge of interest in approaches to quality management over the last decade and a half.

There is an abundance of literature that prescribes TQM and describes its successful implementation. There is room for further study of the causes of success and failure of TQM, for the development of measures that would allow comparisons between firms that adopt TQM, and how the characteristics of the effort influence the successful adoption of TQM.

Preparation of this paper was supported in part by a grant from Wilfrid Laurier University. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of two anonymous reviewers and the editor, David Waldman, for comments on a draft of this article.

Address all correspondence to C.R. Harris, School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada, N2L 3C5.


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