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Sunday, 24 July 2011

TQM or Total Quality Madness

I am a survivor.

I have survived 17 different management “initiatives” during a 40 year working life. One of them was TQM, Total Quality “Madness”.



Like most fads it started with a Prophet, but now the surviving “Disciples” argue over who the true ‘Prophet’ was. I will not enter their debate, I don’t care who invented it or whose fault it was.



Like all fads, TQM begins with some good ideas and catchy slogans. The ‘higher’ thinking is kept secret and instead anecdotes replace research. “Right first time” was an enchanting idea, which soon cast its spell over millions of workers. But, How?



The “Magic Circle” was invented. Workers who had never had any “voice”, who had never been heard were invited to speak; Assembly Worker, Production Operator and all. “How could we do it better?



Brainstorming, Coffee and Flipcharts soon became a ‘heady’ mixture. And, more anecdotal “results” than you could read on a quiet rainy Sunday.
Up 3%, down 7%,
improved by 13%,
decreased by 5%
and saved 100%

I remember that TQM came with a distant Japanese High Priesthood - their message of Purpose, Process and People conveniently translated into English still seemed somehow ‘Oriental’. But, then “Local Priests” began appearing, people we had known as of little importance and scarce education. Now, these Demi-gurus spoke in parables, “Zero defects”, “Hassle free” (or friction free), “Delighted Customers” and “Employee involvement”. Soon, many otherwise quite smart people had “bought-in.”
They began attending the Circles listened to “Quality” talk from the Local Priests.
Quality, quality, quality was the answer to everything.
Quality assured our collective future.
Quality assured our Profitability.
Quality assured our jobs.



The sceptical few (myself included) asked “Quality at what cost?”
When we tried to change the slogan to “Quality, at a profit” we were howled down, named as “negative non-co-operators” (as opposed to “Collaborators”, which we thought was politically incorrect French.). Our “resistance” was short lived, the Local Priests issued the “Book of Compliance”, and there could be no dissention, Total Quality Rules.



It was then that a most curious thing happened. Those same self-important, not too bright people who had become Local Priests, they underwent a metamorphosis!
Using their “Book of Compliance”, they first became TQM Assessors, and then they became the TQM Police.

At the same time “results” were beginning to come in, both Customers and Sales were being affected. Customers were being asked to accept “Quality” exceeding their requirements. Good enough wasn’t any good, only “Right” was what we now offered!



Along with the “Quality” came cost, building-in quality isn’t cheap,
in fact building-in more quality than the Customer wants is very expensive.



So, now we began losing sales, “more quality than we need, at a price we can’t afford” complained long term Customers, who left for cheaper Competitors. “It’s Sale’s fault” howled the TQM Police,
They can’t sell the Quality!” And, they were right, we could not even find the "Quality" Market, never mind sell to it! We just couldn’t find Buyers who bought more than they needed for prices higher than ‘good enough’ Quality.



Capitalism, has an inbuilt “evolution system”. It’s not the strongest that survives; it’s the most appropriate for the Product/Market. Don’t build more “quality” than your Market wants, don’t price higher than your Market is willing to pay. And, don’t give people who have never succeeded in any Commercial environment the ability to destroy your Company in the name of Compliance.

If you need a Slogan, use Nike’s “Just Do It!”
But, do it at an appropriate Quality with an acceptable Price.

That’s why you have a sales force.

The Voice of the Customer!

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