Volume 8 • Number 1
A Framework for Quality Improvement in the Transportation
Over the past 10 years, quality management
has become an important strategic tool for manufacturing
and service firms striving to attain competitive success.
Numerous studies have documented various elements of quality
management and the requirements for successful quality programs
in the manufacturing industry. However, there has been a
lack of basic and applied quality management research in
most service industries. The transportation industry is
one such service example. In this research, a survey was
used to examine 18 quality practices within the transportation
industry and relate these quality initiatives to various
success elements of the transportation quality programs.
Hypotheses were tested through the use of Bonferroni multiple
range tests, bivariate correlation, factor analysis, and
multiple linear regression of survey data gathered from
within the transportation industry. The survey results showed
that many of the quality practices in the transportation
industry were positively correlated with firm performance.
Multiple linear regression also indicated that both strategic
and operations initiatives identified from the literature
affected the success of the transportation quality programs.
One implication is that transportation organizations should
seek to integrate their strategic goals and quality practices
to enhance competitive advantage.
Key words: logistics, service industry
by Keah Choon
Tan, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Joel D. Wisner, University
of Nevada, Las Vegas
Intense global competition has forced many world-class organizations
to reexamine how they manage quality as they seek to enhance
product quality, customer service, and overall competitiveness
(Symons and Jacobs 1995). For several years now, total quality
management (TQM) has been recognized by manufacturing executives
to be an important strategic issue (Malhotra, Steele, and
Grover 1994). As quality awareness has grown, quality management
efforts at some companies have resulted in improved competitiveness
(Hendricks and Singhal 1996), while similar results in other
organizations have remained elusive (Hiam 1993; Grant, Shani,
and Krishnan 1994).
Service organizations, in particular the transportation industry,
exhibit these characteristics. Competition among transportation
companies has increased dramatically, due in part to economic
deregulation of the industry, growing demands among shippers
for increased levels of service, and the current trend in
the creation of carrier-shipper alliances. Efforts to improve
performance and competitiveness and the contemporary regulatory
environment that continues to be dominated by a trend toward
global free market competition have led transportation companies
to implement formal quality improvement programs.
Quality improvement efforts in manufacturing have received
significant attention by researchers, and results achieved
by these companies have been dramatic and well documented
(Flynn, Schroeder, and Sakakibara 1995; Ahire, Golhar, and
Waller 1996). A comparatively small amount of research attention
has been given to the quality improvement strategies of services
(for example, transportation companies) although notable successes
have been achieved; for example, Federal Express, AT&T, Merrill
Lynch, and the Ritz Carlton have all won the Malcolm Baldrige
National Quality Award. To date, little empirical research
exists describing the quality assessment and improvement programs
for the service industry, particularly transportation companies.
Most of the existing empirical research related to transportation
quality tends to be anecdotal, with firms describing general
quality practices in their logistics functions, or customer
service improvement strategies (Stank 1993; Hopkins et al.
1993). The lack of well-defined linkages between transportation
quality practices and performance outcomes have, as a consequence,
resulted in firms using initiatives in a piecemeal manner
without understanding the potential or long-term impacts (Carman
1993; Mentzer and Conrad 1991). No concerted effort has yet
been made in the transportation industry to link quality practices
or initiatives to indicators of firm success.
The aim of this research was to develop a framework that
would allow linkages between transportation quality practices
and firm success to be identified and tested. The existing
transportation quality management research was initially examined
to derive a set of commonly listed transportation quality
practices. Eighteen common quality improvement program practices
or elements were identified from the literature and used for
the survey. These practices were then categorized into a set
of constructs. Finally, the linkages between the transportation
quality practices and the success descriptors of the various
transportation programs reported by the respondents were tested.
A description of the quality elements and the set of constructs