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Quality Management: History, Gurus, TQM and Process Improvement

The history of quality management, from mere 'inspection' to Total Quality Management (TQM) and its modern 'branded interpretations such as 'Six Sigma', has led to the development of essential processes, ideas, theories and tools that are central to organisational development and change which are generally desired for individuals, teams and organisations.

These free resources, materials and tools are an excellent guide to the quality management area, for practical application in organisations, for study and learning, and for teaching and training others.

These free PDF materials are provided by permission of the UK Department of Industry - now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - which is gratefully acknowledged. The materials listed and linked from this page are subject to Crown Copyright.

Please note that since the replacement of the UK Department of Industry by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the branding on the materials is now obsolete. Nevertheless, since the Quality Management technical and historical content is unaffected by the DTI branding the materials remain relevant for training, learning and reference.

It is appropriate to note the passing of Joseph Juran, a seminal figure in the history of quality management, who died 28 February 2008, age 103. 

Juran did more than teach Japan about quality management. He was also arguably the first quality expert to emphasise that no quality management system works unless people are empowered and committed to take responsibility for quality - as an ongoing process - effectively for quality to become part of part of people's behaviour and attitudes - an ethos

The section below on Kaizen explains the connections between the true ethos of quality management, and the positive ethical management of people.

Further TQM information and quality management terminology explanations are on the Six Sigma page.

History of Quality Management

The roots of Total Quality Management can be traced to early 1920's production quality control ideas, and notably the concepts developed in Japan beginning in the late 1940's and 1950's, pioneered there by Americans Feigenbum, Juran and Deming... here is more about Quality Management and TQM history.

Quality Management Gurus and Theories

Quality Management resulted mainly from the work of the quality gurus and their theories: the American gurus featured in the 1950's Japan: Joseph Juran, W Edwards Deming, and Armand Feigenbum

The Japanese quality gurus who developed and extended the early American quality ideas and models: Kaoru Ishikawa, Genichi Taguchi, and Shigeo Shingo; and the 1970-80's American Western gurus, notably Philip Crosby and Tom Peters, who further extended the Quality Management concepts after the Japanese successes... 

Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management features centrally the customer-supplier interfaces, (external and internal customers and suppliers). 

A number of processes sit at each interfaceCentral also is an organisational commitment to quality and the importance of communicating this quality commitment, together with the acknowledgement that the right organisational culture is essential for effective Total Quality Management.... More about the fundamentals and structures of the TQM model, including the people, processes and systems in the organisation.     

Processes and Methods

Understanding Processes and Methods for Process Improvement

Understanding processes is essential before attempt is made to improve them. This is a central aspect to Total Quality Management, and also to more modern quality and process improvement interpretations and models such as Six Sigma .... More about Total Quality Management process and process improvement methods

Quality Process Improvement Tools and Techniques

A wide range of tools and techniques is used for identifying, measuring, prioritising and improving processes which are critical to quality. Again these ideas and methods feature prominently in modern interpretations of Total Quality Management methodology, such as Six Sigma. 

These process improvement tools and techniques include: DRIVE (Define, Review, Identify, Verify, Execute), process mapping, flow-charting, force field analysis, cause and effect, brainstorming, Pareto analysis, Statistical Process Control (SPC), Control charts, bar charts, 'dot plot' and tally charts, check-sheets, scatter diagrams, matrix analysis, histograms..... click here for more about tools and techniques for process evaluation and improvement.

A summary of quality tools is below.

The Kaizen methodology is also described below in some detail.

Developing People and Teams

People are a fundamental component within any successfully developing organisation. Take away the people and the organisation is nothing. Take away the people's motivation, commitment and ability to work together in well-organised teams, and again, the organisation is nothing. 

Conversely, inspire the people to work well, creatively, productively, and the organisation can fly. Logically therefore, the development and proper utilisation of people are vital to the success of all quality management initiatives. 

There are a wide range of models that are used in selecting, assessing, training and developing and motivating people, among which are classical models such as Belbin, Myers Briggs Type Indicator (see the personality models section), Bruce Tuckman's 'Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing' model and John Adair's Action Centred Leadership model. 

Quality Management Systems

A 'Total Quality organisation' generally benefits from having an effective Quality Management System (QMS). 

A Quality Management System is typically defined as: 'A set of coordinated activities to direct and control an organisation in order to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance.' 

Customer expectations inevitably drive and define 'performance' criteria and standards. Therefore, Quality Management Systems focus on customer expectations and ongoing review and improvement.

Performance Measurement and Management

There are many ways to measure organisational performance other than financial output or profit. Modern measurement focuses on the essential activities, resources and other factors - many less intangible than traditional indicators - that impact on final outputs. These include modern methods such as Balanced Scorecard.

TQM Self-Assessment and Awards Using the EFQM® Model

Any organisation can assess itself provided it has the commitment and a framework for the self-assessment. Here are some ideas as well as a process for quality and excellence self-assessment

TQM Benchmarking and Questionnaire

Benchmarking is a widely used term within the field of organisational measurement and management. 

Here is an explanation of benchmarking, and a questionnaire by which an organisation (or a department or process team) can assess its readiness for benchmarking.

TQM Implementation Framework and Blueprint

Here is a framework and 'blueprint' for the implementation of a quality improvement or 'excellence' initiative. It includes the following elements:

  • TQM Processes
  • Tools and techniques
  • People and teamwork
  • Quality management system
  • Performance measurement
  • EFQM Excellence Model®
  • Self-assessment

This blueprint for achieving organisational excellence is based on many years of research, education and advisory work in the European Centre for Business Excellence (ECforBE), and the research and education division of Oakland Consulting PLC. 

It is, along with the other resources in this section, information and advice initially from the UK Department of Industry, now replaced by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

TQM Case Studies

Here are a number of case studies featuring organisations that have implemented quality management and process improvement initiatives. 

These case studies illustrate the effectiveness and feasibility of the various methodologies, tools, techniques and concepts included within quality management and quality process improvement theory.


Kaizen is a very significant concept within quality management and deserves specific explanation:

Kaizen (usually pronounced 'kyzan' or 'kyzen' in the western world) is a Japanese word, commonly translated to mean 'continuous improvement'.

Kaizen is a core principle of quality management generally, and specifically within the methods of Total Quality Management and 'Lean Manufacturing'.

Originally developed and applied by Japanese industry and manufacturing in the 1950s and 60s, Kaizen continues to be a successful philosophical and practical aspect of some of the best known Japanese corporations, and has for many years since been interpreted and adopted by 'western' organisations all over the world.

Kaizen is a way of thinking, working and behaving, embedded in the philosophy and values of the organisation. 

Kaizen should be 'lived' rather than imposed or tolerated, at all levels.

The aims of a Kaizen organisation are typically defined as:

  • To be profitable, stable, sustainable and innovative.
  • To eliminate waste of time, money, materials, resources and effort and increase productivity.
  • To make incremental improvements to systems, processes and activities before problems arise rather than correcting them after the event.
  • To create a harmonious and dynamic organisation where every employee participates and is valued.

Key concepts of Kaizen:

  • Every is a key word in Kaizen: improving everything that everyone does in every aspect of the organisation in every department, every minute of every day.
  • Evolution rather than revolution: continually making small, 1% improvements to 100 things is more effective, less disruptive and more sustainable than improving one thing by 100% when the need becomes unavoidable.
  • Everyone involved in a process or activity, however apparently insignificant, has valuable knowledge and participates in a working team or Kaizen group (see also Quality Circles below).
  • Everyone is expected to participate, analysing, providing feedback and suggesting improvements to their area of work.
  • Every employee is empowered to participate fully in the improvement process: taking responsibility, checking and coordinating their own activities. Management practice enables and facilitates this.
  • Every employee is involved in the running of the company, and is trained and informed about the company. This encourages commitment and interest, leading to fulfilment and job satisfaction.

Kaizen teams use analytical tools and techniques to review systems and look for ways to improve (see Quality Tools below).

At its best, Kaizen is a carefully nurtured philosophy that works smoothly and steadily, and which helps to align 'hard' organisational inputs and aims (especially in process-driven environments), with 'soft' management issues such as motivation and empowerment.

Like any methodology however, poor interpretation and implementation can limit the usefulness of Kaizen practices, or worse cause them to be counter-productive.

Kaizen is unsuccessful typically where:

  • Kaizen methods are added to an existing failing structure, without fixing the basic structure and philosophy.
  • Kaizen is poorly integrated with processes and people's thinking.
  • Training is inadequate.
  • Executive/leadership doesn't understand or support Kaizen.
  • Employees and managers regard Kaizen as some form of imposed procedure, lacking meaningful purpose.

Kaizen works best when it is 'owned' by people, who see the concept as both empowering of individuals and teams, and a truly practical way to improve quality and performance, and thereby job satisfaction and reward. As ever, such initiatives depend heavily on commitment from above, critically:

  • to encourage and support Kaizen, and
  • to ensure improvements produce not only better productivity and profit for the organisation, but also better recognition and reward and other positive benefits for employees, whose involvement drives the change and improvement in the first place.

Interestingly, the spirit of Kaizen, which is distinctly Japanese in origin - notably its significant emphasis upon individual and worker empowerment in organisations - is reflected in many 'western' concepts of management and motivation. For example, the Y-Theory principles described by Douglas McGregor; Herzberg's Motivational Theory, Maslow's Needs Hierarchy and related thinking; Adams' Equity Theory; and Charles Handy's motivational theories.

Fascinatingly, we can now see that actually very close connections exist between:

  • the fundamental principles of Quality Management - which might be regarded as cold and detached and focused on 'things' not people, and
  • progressive 'humanist' ideas about motivating and managing people - which might be regarded as too compassionate and caring to have a significant place in the optimisation of organisational productivity and profit.

The point is that in all effective organisations a very strong mutual dependence exists between:

  • systems, processes, tools, productivity, profit - the 'hard' inputs and outputs (some say 'left-side brain'), and
  • people, motivation, teamwork, communication, recognition and reward - the 'soft' inputs and outputs ('right-side brain')

Kaizen helps to align these factors and keep them aligned.

Quality Tools

'Quality Tools' refers to tools and techniques used in support of Kaizen and other quality improvement or quality management programmes and philosophies.

Based mainly on statistical and manufacturing process tools, Quality Tools are used at all levels of an organisation - typically in 'quality circles' or Kaizen work teams to analyse and review activities and uncover inefficiencies.

The main Quality Tools are:

  • The '5 Whys' - asking 'Why?' at least five times to uncover root cause of a problem.
  • Flowcharts - boxes and arrows method of examining activities, potentially used in brainstorming, also found in business process modelling
  • Fishbone/Ishikawa Diagrams - fishbone-structured diagram for identifying cause/effect patterns, in which primary categories are generally pre-determined according to context. See fishbone diagram and usage examples for project management.
  • Run Charts - a graph which plots data/change along a timeline.
  • Pareto Charts - a line and bar graph displaying cause/effect ratios, especially biggest relative cause, based on Pareto theory.
  • Histograms - a bar graph displaying data in simple categories which together account for a total.
  • Checklists/Checksheets - pre-formatted lists for noting incidence, frequency, etc., according to known useful criteria
  • Control/Shewhart Charts - a standard pattern of performance/time for a given process, often in Run Chart format, which acts as a template to check conformance and deviation.
  • Scatter Diagram/Scatterplot - a graph which plots points (typically very many individual instances) according to two variables, which produces a useful visual indication of the relationship between the two variables.

Some quality tools, like flowcharts and checklists, have become part of mainstream management.

Others tools such as the Fishbone diagram have stayed quite specific to the engineering and manufacturing disciplines, which traditionally have a strong focus and expertise in Kaizen, 'Lean' management and other quality management methodologies.

Quality Circles

Quality circles, similar to Kaizen teams, are a key part of any continuous improvement programme.

In this context the word 'circle' refers to a team of people.

Teams or small groups (the circles) meet to analyse, and review working practices with a view to making suggestions for improvement in their work and the systems.

As with many Quality Tools, the specific use of Quality Circles is chiefly concentrated among manufacturing and engineering organisations or in technical departments of this sort.

The term Quality Circles may be found in more general use outside of these traditional areas, in which case the name tends to imply or symbolise that teams are working in an empowered, cooperative way, especially focused on problem-solving and improvements, rather than a strict adherence to technical Total Quality Management or related processes.

With acknowledgements to Melanie Allen.

See Also