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Learn About Quality

What is Total Quality Management (TQM)?

Quality Glossary Definition: Total quality management

A core definition of total quality management (TQM) describes a management approach to long-term success through customer satisfaction. In a TQM effort, all members of an organization participate in improving processes, products, services, and the culture in which they work.

Primary Elements of tqm

TQM can be summarized as a management system for a customer-focused organization that involves all employees in continual improvement. It uses strategy, data, and effective communications to integrate the quality discipline into the culture and activities of the organization. Many of these concepts are present in modern quality management systems, the successor to TQM. Here are the 8 principles of total quality management:

  1. Customer-focused: The customer ultimately determines the level of quality. No matter what an organization does to foster quality improvement—training employees, integrating quality into the design process, or upgrading computers or software—the customer determines whether the efforts were worthwhile.
  2. Total employee involvement: All employees participate in working toward common goals. Total employee commitment can only be obtained after fear has been driven from the workplace, when empowerment has occurred, and when management has provided the proper environment. High-performance work systems integrate continuous improvement efforts with normal business operations. Self-managed work teams are one form of empowerment.
  3. Process-centered: A fundamental part of TQM is a focus on process thinking. A process is a series of steps that take inputs from suppliers (internal or external) and transforms them into outputs that are delivered to customers (internal or external). The steps required to carry out the process are defined, and performance measures are continuously monitored in order to detect unexpected variation.
  4. Integrated system: Although an organization may consist of many different functional specialties often organized into vertically structured departments, it is the horizontal processes interconnecting these functions that are the focus of TQM.
      • Micro-processes add up to larger processes, and all processes aggregate into the business processes required for defining and implementing strategy. Everyone must understand the vision, mission, and guiding principles as well as the quality policies, objectives, and critical processes of the organization. Business performance must be monitored and communicated continuously.
      • An integrated business system may be modeled after the Baldrige Award criteria and/or incorporate the ISO 9000 standards. Every organization has a unique work culture, and it is virtually impossible to achieve excellence in its products and services unless a good quality culture has been fostered. Thus, an integrated system connects business improvement elements in an attempt to continually improve and exceed the expectations of customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
  5. Strategic and systematic approach: A critical part of the management of quality is the strategic and systematic approach to achieving an organization’s vision, mission, and goals. This process, called strategic planning or strategic management, includes the formulation of a strategic plan that integrates quality as a core component.
  6. Continual improvement: A large aspect of TQM is continual process improvement. Continual improvement drives an organization to be both analytical and creative in finding ways to become more competitive and more effective at meeting stakeholder expectations.
  7. Fact-based decision making: In order to know how well an organization is performing, data on performance measures are necessary. TQM requires that an organization continually collect and analyze data in order to improve decision making accuracy, achieve consensus, and allow prediction based on past history.
  8. Communications: During times of organizational change, as well as part of day-to-day operation, effective communications plays a large part in maintaining morale and in motivating employees at all levels. Communications involve strategies, method, and timeliness.

Primary Elements of Total Quality Management (TQM)
Primary Elements of Total Quality Management (TQM)

These elements are considered so essential to TQM that many organizations define them, in some format, as a set of core values and principles on which the organization is to operate. The methods for implementing this approach come from the teachings of such quality leaders as Philip B. Crosby, W. Edwards Deming, Armand V. Feigenbaum, Kaoru Ishikawa, and Joseph M. Juran

ADditional TQM INformation

Total Quality Management Resources

Quality management resources act as a catalyst to creating a competitive advantage. The TQM resources below grant access to knowledge that can help foster the development of any organization.






Adapting TQM to Change Indian Bureaucracy: A View From Inside (PDF) A six-unit study of Indian government and action research in one governmental unit showed that robust corrective and preventative actions and process-based quality procedures helped transition ISO certified units toward TQM.

TQM and Teamwork Effectiveness: The Intermediate Role of Organizational Design (PDF) A quantitative study conducted in an engineering firm developing advanced total quality management practices examines how design variables help improve team effectiveness.

TQM vs. BPR (PDF) TQM and business process re-engineering are still used to make organizational improvements, but people don’t always understand the differences between the two.

Understanding the Obstacles to TQM Success (PDF) Factor analysis of barriers to TQM reveals five underlying obstacles: inadequate human resources development and management, lack of planning for quality, lack of leadership for quality, inadequate resources for TQM, and lack of customer focus.

Total Quality Management: Is It a Fad, Fashion, or Fit? (PDF) TQM’s movement from fad to fashion to fitting in with normal management practices will occur only when there is strong internal motivation and emotional involvement for the implementation.

More TQM articles and content 

Adapted from The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, ASQ Quality Press.

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