TQM and its constituents

The traditional view of quality has been ‘corrective’ (quality control) or at best ‘preventive’ (quality planning). Corrective actions ensure that the defective products do not slip through and get into the consignment that is to be shipped to the customer at least not beyond certain limit. ‘Preventive’ action ensured that the occasions to take ‘corrective’ action are far and few. Management scientists spoke of ‘costs’ of quality.

Until a quarter of a century ago, the costs concerned directly the immediate user of the product. The definition of customer was narrow, as was the definition of quality. A customer was the person or organization that bought the product that left the factory or its warehouse. It was Taguchi from Japan who educated the industries about the ‘costs to the society’. It was the society that was the ultimate customer – as shown by the Taguchi loss Function.

Ishikawa and several others of his time concentrated on ‘loss prevention’ through an analysis as to why do losses occur. In general quality management was perceived to be an auditor and at best an advisor how the losses may be prevented.

TQM, on the other hand, looks at quality as a value provided to the customer. It is a methodology to maximize value to the organization’s customers. Continuous value addition in order to satisfy the customer totally, is the aim. A customer desires that the life cycle costs be minimal. But, that is only speaking about the floor level requirement. He expects additional things, which are known as ‘values’ pertaining to the product or service. It is not enough to have a result which says the customer is ‘not unhappy’. In a competitive world, this is similar to an ‘also ran’ situation, or worse – one may not even qualify for that actual race. TQM is, therefore, focused intensely on the customer, his requirements, preferences and expectations. TQM involves studying where and how does the customer interact by design and/or be default with the product /service, and how satisfied he is in all these interactions. It is important to note that anybody who interacts with the product or service, even by default could be a customer albiet a potential customer.

Totality of Functions:

When such a focused job is to be done, it goes without saying that the entire organization’s energies are to be put into it. Every function be it marketing, logistics, production/operations, purchasing, engineering or product design has to get actively and fully involved. All functions are inter related and interdependent and therefore, all will have to get involved much like conducting a symphony.

Total range of products and /or Services:

TQM should not be stopped after applying to select few of the company’s products and services. While one may chalk out certain priorities for the TQM program in the initial stages, the program should assume a comprehensive nature at the earliest. The reasons are simple: a customer cannot be offered some products that are good and some not so good. One product /service has an effect on the other. In customer’s mind, the images of the products overlap with each other. The full benefit of TQM will not be realized unless it encompasses the full range of services offered by an organization. The resultant benefit is realized by both the customer and the organization.

All Dimensions of Quality:

The various attributes of quality are such as performance, features, aesthetics, reliability, durability, serviceability, safety, user friendliness, customizability and environment friendliness. Service quality has its determinants such as responsiveness, courtesy, communication, competence, reliability, credibility and security, among others. A product and /or service (by now it is understood a product is not too different from a service in today’s business world) has to spell excellence on all of these dimensions of quality. It has to meet the competition on all of these at the least and surpass the competitors on several other dimensions. This is the dictum for TQM.

Usually the customer does not specify many of these dimensions of quality. He may not even be aware of the dimensions. It, therefore, is really the job of the organization to find out as to what might be the stated and unstated needs and expectations of the identified. The organization also needs to investigate the competitors ‘products/services’ and how well those are in meeting the customers’ needs /expectations. TQM would involve intensive and extensive probe into market behavior and consumer behavior in specific. This search has to be frequent or continuous because the market or the customer’s relative priorities amongst the determinants may change.

Satisfying Both the ‘Internal’ and the ‘External’ Customers:

Quality is about satisfying at least the external customer. However, the capability of an organization to satisfy the external customer depends significantly upon the level of satisfaction within its own organization. If process number 1 feeds into process number 2, then process 2 is the customer of process1. Since process 2 may input another process down the operations stream, unless process 2 is satisfied it may not be able to give right input into the next process its customer. This chain of processes ultimately reaches the external customer. An organization cannot afford to have link in this chain. Customer satisfaction has to begin internally. In the context of supply chains, it is amply clear that a company would not be able to satisfy the ultimate customer unless it satisfies the immediate customer in the supply chain.