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TQM’s seven basic elements

24 February, 2015 - 17:30

Successful practice of Total Quality Management involves both technical and people aspects that cover the entire organization and extend to relationships with suppliers and customers. Seven basic elements capture the essence of the TQM philosophy: customer focus, continuous improvement, employee empowerment, quality tools, product design, process management, and supplier quality.

  • Customer focus: Decisions of how to organize resources to best serve customers starts with a clear understanding of customer needs and the measurement of customer satisfaction. For example, the Red Cross surveys its blood donors to determine how it can make the blood donation experience more pleasant and convenient. It collects information on the place, date and time donors came in, and asks donors questions of whether the donation time was convenient, whether they were treated with respect and gratitude, how long they had to wait to donate, and whether parking was adequate. By understanding donors’ needs and experiences, Red Cross managers can determine strengths and weaknesses of the donation service process and make adjustments if necessary.
  • Continuous improvement: An organizational culture that promotes continuous learning and problem solving is essential in the pursuit of zero defects. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a universal continuous improvement system that has been effectively applied to many different types of organizations, including the health care industry. Essential elements of the TPS culture include studying process flow, collecting data, driving out wasteful non-value-added activities, and making everyone responsible for quality improvement. In the case of health care, the TPS approach enabled one hospital to analyze the causes of patient infections from catheters and pneumonia in patients on ventilators. With simple changes in procedures that prevented patients from getting these secondary illnesses, the hospital was able to save USD 40,000 per patient in these cases.
  • Employee involvement: Employees in a TQM environment have very different roles and responsibilities than in a traditional organization. They are given responsibility, training, and authority to measure and control the quality of the work they produce, they work together in teams to address quality issues, they are cross-trained to be able to perform multiple tasks and have a greater understanding of the total production process, and they have a more intimate understanding of the operation and maintenance of their equipment. Employees are essential to the building of a continuous improvement organization.
  • Quality tools: Discussion of the details of quality tools extends beyond the scope of this chapter, but there are seven basic quality tools that are used by front-line workers and managers in monitoring quality performance and gathering data for quality improvement activities. These tools include: cause-and-effect (fishbone) diagrams, flowcharts, checklists, control charts, scatter diagrams, Pareto analysis, and histograms. The beauty of these tools is that they are easy to understand and apply in on-going quality efforts.
  • Product design: Product design is a key activity to avoid costly internal and external failure costs. For example, when a dental office designs the service process, it might have patients fill out a form that covers important information on general health issues, allergies, and medications. This helps to avoid future complications and problems. Staff, hygienists, and dentists are highly trained to follow proper procedures, the facility is both functional and pleasant, and the equipment and tools are state of the art to ensure that the patient’s desired outcome is achieved. In a manufacturing setting, products should be designed to maximize product functionality, reliability, and manufacturability.
  • Process management: “Quality at the Source” is an important concept in TQM. It means that managers and employees should be focused on the detailed activities in a process where good or bad quality is created. For example, in a Toyota plant in the United States in Georgetown, Kentucky, one of the work stations was responsible for installing seat belts and visors in every vehicle that came along the assembly line. There were 12 possible combinations of visors and seat belts that would go into any particular vehicle and the worker had to select the right combination and install the items in the vehicle in 55 seconds. Even the best workers made several errors during a shift on this activity. After studying the process, the workers came up with an idea to put all the items for a particular vehicle model in a blue plastic tote. With this change, the worker only had to make one decision per vehicle. Almost all the errors from the previous system were eliminated with this simple solution.
  • Supplier quality: The focus on quality at the source extends to suppliers’ processes as well, since the quality of a finished product is only as good as the quality of its individual parts and components, regardless of whether they come from internal or external sources. Sharing your quality and engineering expertise with your suppliers, having a formal supplier certification program, and including your suppliers in the product design stage are important measures to take to ensure that quality at the source extends to the supplier network.