Quality: Part Two – A Primer on Total Quality Management

Virtually as long as humans have been creating things, there has been a quest for quality.

From members of the masonry guild in Medieval Europe to those who worked in factories throughout the Industrial Revolution, the desire to establish a quality business has been one of the yardsticks of modern industry.

Of course, it hasn’t always worked. For a time, productivity reigned supreme, and quality arguably went out the window.

Case in point was Japan following World War II. Products were created en masse, until an American – W. Edwards Deming – delivered a seminar that placed the responsibility for quality in the hands of the owners, rather than the workers. In one short decade, the rest became history and the U.S. scrambled to follow suit.

Key to Deming’s philosophy (and others before him) was the management system that focused on the relationship between the product and the process used to create that product – whether that product was a widget or a service.

Today, we talk of Total Quality Management with the ultimate focus on customer satisfaction. This is accomplished by following these four principles for the creation of both goods and services:

  • It must be fit for its purpose, conform to requirements, or do what it’s supposed to do
  • It is about preventing defects and mistakes before they happen
  • Focuses on improving performance and eliminating waste (rework, mistakes, downtime) which reduces costs and increases efficiency
  • And it focuses on improving and evolving existing structures to ensure superior quality products and services

Another popular modern approach is the Six Sigma, which focuses its quality objective not on one end result, but on an ongoing process. This essentially creates a culture that continually aims to improve performance. While it’s a highly modern tool, it shares its philosophical devotion to quality with those guild craftsmen of old.

Quality Management Myth-Making

Despite these new frameworks, there are still those who believe that quality management systems are burdensome for a variety of reasons.

Myth #1: Quality requires too much documentation

Fact: ISO 9001 offers a system that helps companies satisfy customers, stakeholders and both statutory and regulatory needs. With only six documented procedures, companies can focus on results that can easily be adopted into daily activities.

Myth #2: Quality is no more than lip service for customers

Fact: A business that operates with that belief likely has forgotten its purpose. Management systems help avoid mistakes, which means more money in the bank.

Myth #3: The cost is too great to implement

Fact: This may be true if top management hasn’t bought in to the process. If you aren’t willing to invest in a system on a daily basis, you can make this myth your reality.

Myth #4: Management systems squelch innovation

Fact: The management system you implement is up to you. Use this as an opportunity to create a system that leaves room for innovation where it’s needed, while ensuring quality.

Myth #5: A Quality Management System will distract me from my core business

Fact: There is no one size fits all solution. But a system that is focused on your needs, and is supported daily will improve performance beyond the cost of implementation.

Myth #6: Just because I track it, doesn’t mean it is better

Fact: True, there are no absolutes when it comes to quality. It’s a moving target, and you’re not the only one that’s moving. But if you track it, you can see whether your product is consistent. That’s more likely to achieve results than the alternative.

Quality Management Builds the Future of Your Business

A commitment to quality is a choice that not every business will make. Just as every individual chooses how much “value” to place on conducting their personal affairs, so too do businesses choose how much “value” to place on their professional conduct.

Quality management ensures superior quality products and services are delivered to the customer, which keeps your business in business. Bottom line: customers need to be happy with your brand if you want to gain – and maintain – customer loyalty.

Quality management can also make the organization a better place to work – a quality principle that Deming identified way back in the 1940s. If the organization is earning, then employees are earning. Providing an environment where employees feel they have a role to play in creating quality creates a positive cause and effective relationship between the customer and the worker. Everyone benefits, and the earnings continue.

Equally important, and sometimes overlooked, is that quality management provides business owners with real data that is easy to understand and that everyone – including employees – can examine in order to make continuous improvements.

Finally, the key to success with quality management is to take the time to plan, and include all members of the organization. A team of people focused on quality, with each player looking at their own unique role, is a force to be reckoned with.

For more in this series, see Part One, and Part Three.

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