Total Quality Leadership
Shifting Paradigms for Quantum Leaps in Continuous Improvement

by Richard E. Winder
Copyright 1993, Richard E. Winder.  All Rights Reserved.

More and more lips are repeating the phrase "Total Quality Management" or simply "TQM." The quality movement has flourished since Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Joseph Juran (who took their statistical and management tools to Japan after World War II) brought their tools back to an America which was finally ready to listen. The movement in America has grown from an esoteric, sometimes envious, discussion of how the Japanese are doing it to a shop floor analysis of what other improvements can be made. It has now even made its way into banks and other service industries.

Yet there are still many who are questioning where the quality movement has brought us and where it will take us. Some say the movement is just another management fad. (Unfortunately, for them it probably is just a fad.) Others say that quality works, but it is a lot of hard work that may not be worth the effort. But futurist Joel A. Barker says quality is necessary to excel in the 90's and to survive in the next century. Consequently, we must answer the questions, "What is quality?" and "How can we implement it?"

Quality is defined as "The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs."(1) In simple terms, quality is the process of moving people and organizations from a state of limitation to a state of liberation through fulfillment of their stated and implied needs.

An effective quality system incorporates five distinct dimensions of quality.

The experience dimension answers the question, "What am I doing?" It is critical because in this dimension things are actually done. "Vision becomes reality." Unless this dimension is fulfilled, plans remain plans and are not put into action.

The measurement dimension answers the question, "How am I doing?" This dimension provides us with knowledge of the system. For example, surveys are used to measure customer satisfaction. Also, statistical process control methods are used to ensure a process is in control, or stable.

The relationship or systems thinking dimension permits correlation between activities and results of activities. It answers the question, "Why does this work better than that?" This dimension assists in identifying leverage points where action can be taken to generate improvements. It also assists in establishing systems through which less effort produces greater results.

The inter-connectivity dimension permits seeing circumstances from a different view. "How do others see it?" This shift in paradigms can provide new logic to overcome traditional ways of thinking or outdated methods. This dimension provides a powerful foundation for innovation and change. This is essential to keep in touch with changing customer needs.

The value sharing dimension is illustrated by the phrase, "delight the customer" ("give the customers more than they pay for"). It answers the question, "Are my customers more important to me than my products?" It is this dimension that provides the commitment to the customer which drives the desire for continuous improvement and is the foundation for long-term customer loyalty.

Quality leadership is critical to the quality process. Without the commitment of top management to the quality effort, improvements can still be made, but they will not be preserved as part of the management system.

Is quality worth the effort? Ask the finance manager of a small non-profit foundation if it was worth reducing estimated data entry time by over 50%. Part of that improvement came from a simple request by the data entry clerk to "get rid of that crazy bell" that kept ringing every time she entered a particular type of transaction. Ask the medical office which implemented a system which now has all staff involved in the billing process, eliminating the need for a full time billing clerk and significantly reducing billing errors.

How does a firm implement quality? In each of the above cases, the quality improvements involved application of simple quality principles. Once they begin to understand what quality is, many managers find that they are already applying a number of these principles in their operations. For them, quality is not a Mount Everest that they have to climb, but a whole new horizon of opportunity they are already well on the way to fulfilling. By understanding quality principles and learning a few of the quality tools that are available, a firm can begin to make small improvements that, when combined with other improvements, will result in quantum leaps along the road to quality and continuous improvement.

1. ANSI/ASQC. 1987 Quality Systems Terminology, American National Standard. A3-1987.