Total Quality Management has been around for quite some time now. But if we talk about quality, what exactly do we then mean?

A definition that is frequently used to describe it is: The ability to please the customer by fully meeting their expectations and needs. These expectations and needs refer to many aspects, the most common being delivery of products or services, the availability, performance to produce, maintainability of a delivered product, the look and feel or appearance of the goods, price level, reliability as a partner and good cost effectiveness as a result of less overhead.

Common business sense would state that an organization has to understand and measure its capacity to live up to the expectations and needs of their customers. Failure to meet the demands of the internal customer will undoubtedly and unequivocally move through the delivery chain towards the last stage, where it interfaces with the external customer. For a business to be really effective, a quality approach must cover all activities and all people at every level within the organization.

Total Quality Management is centered around a couple of key areas.

It all starts with people. The employees that every day carry out the activities required in the process all have their own customers and suppliers. If not everyone within the company is fully committed to quality, it will not be possible for the organization to excel. And as TQM is a method of continuous improvement, an internal culture will be required that stimulates this continuous improvement, and promotes and rewards effective teamwork.

Any company is built on a set of core processes that produce desired outputs by transforming inputs. For these outputs - or results - to be effective, they will have to meet external and internal customer's needs. Analysis of every process is required in order to establish areas of improvement which will lead to higher quality.

A Strategic Business Plan will have to be in place that clearly states the key performance indicators. Through performance management, these indicators will be controlled, and continuous monitoring will quickly show any deviations from the plan.

A Quality Management System finally will be used to keep track of all achievements. It is a vital component and will highly contribute to reaching the goals as laid out in the strategic business plan.

The implementation of a TQM program can be quite challenging. Before starting any activities, it is important for an organization to clarify the level of commitment within the management team and the real motivation which supports the decision to introduce it. There are many points that have to be considered, already an early stage.

One should start with establishing a systematic plan which will be used for the implementation of TQM. Barriers to process improvement should be eliminated, and communications and teamwork must be improved. There has to be an urge and recognition that systems must be managed. In analyzing the processes, it is important that only facts are used. Quality has a lot to do with the right mentality, and establishing a culture that inspires to do things right already the first time is required. Up to date methods of supervision is best used in order to remove fear for change among employees. Personnel should be trained and provided with a thorough understanding of the relationship between supplier and the customer. The subject matter experts will have to be educated and trained in order to continuously develop their skills and knowledge. Last but not least, within the entire organization, long term commitment to continuous quality improvement has to be introduced and eventually established.

Applying Total Quality Management within an organization has many benefits. Managing quality as a way to achieve excellence means that the business has to be managed in such a manner that every job and process that is performed, is carried out right, each and every time, not just the first time. The reputation of any business is built on the excellence and quality of the services and products it delivers. If applied correctly, quality management can be an effective competitive attribute, which leads to more profits because of improved customer satisfaction and increased market share.