What is total quality management?

The term quality may simply be defined as providing customers with products and services that meet their needs in an effective manner. TQM focuses on customer satisfaction. The three words that make up this concept—"total," "quality," and "management"—are discussed separately below.

This calls for the involvement of all the aspects of the organization in satisfying the customer, a goal that can only be accomplished if the usefulness is recognized of having partnership environment at each stage of the business process both within and outside the organization, as applicable. With respect to the outside stage of the business process, the important critical factors for a successful supplier-customer relationship are

1. Development of a customer-supplier relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and benefit
2. Development of in-house requirements by customers
3. Customers making suppliers clearly understand their requirements
4. Customers selecting their potential suppliers with mechanisms in place to achieve zero defects
5. Regular monitoring of suppliers' processes and products by the customers

Any company or organization in pursuit of TQM must define the term quality clearly and precisely. It may be said that quality is deceptively simple but endlessly complicated, and numerous definitions have been proposed, such as "quality = people + attitude"; "providing error-free products and services to customers on time"; and "satisfying the requirements and expectations of customers".

Another definition is offered here: "quality means providing both external and internal customers with innovative goods and services that meet their needs effectively." This definition has three important dimensions:

1. It focuses on satisfying the needs of customers
2. Organizations using this definition provide both products and services, which jointly determine the customer's perception of the company in question
3. The concerned companies have both external and internal customers

According to a survey reported in Ref. 1, 82% of the definitions indicated that quality is defined by the customer, not by the supplier. The top five quality measures identified by the respondents were customer feedback (22.92%), customer complaints (16.67%), net profits (10.42%), returning customers (10.42%), and product defects (8.33%).

The approach to management is instrumental in determining companies' ability to attain corporate goals and allocate resources effectively. TQM calls for a radical change in involving employees in company decision-making, as their contribution and participation are vital to orienting all areas of business in providing quality products to customers.

It must be remembered that over the years the Fortune 1000 companies in the United States have reported such benefits of employee-involvement as increased employee trust in management, improved product quality, improved employee safety/ health, increase in productivity, improved management decision-making, increased worker satisfaction, improvement in employee quality of work life, improved union-management relations, improved implementation of technology, improved organization processes, eliminated layers of management, and better customer service.

Companies considering the introduction of TQM will have to see their employees in a new way, for the change in management philosophy needed to truly manage total quality is nothing short of dramatic. Furthermore, it is important that the management infrastructure lay the foundation for involving the entire workforce in the pursuit of customer satisfaction.

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