Today, very few corporate executives believe that TQM is a viable system of business management.  To this point, a 1996 study titled “Measuring Performance After Meeting Award Criteria” was published in Quality Progress magazine.  The conclusions were quite apparent – the impact of TQM practices may not be nearly as significant as some think.  After examining data from Baldrige and state quality award winners, applicants and non-applicants, the study’s authors said they could not “conclusively determine whether quality award winning companies perform better than others.”

Even before this, TQM skepticism was already building.  Consider the April 1994 article featured in Quality Digest magazine titled “Is TQM Dead,” editor Scott Madison Paton cited study after study that brought the viability of TQM into serious question.  “Only 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies are satisfied with the results of their TQM processes, according to a 1992 Rath & Strong survey.”  “Florida Power & Light remains the only U.S. company to have won Japan’s coveted Deming Prize.  It’s winning strategy was largely dismantled after complaints of excessive bureaucracy and red tape.”

Paton continued:  “A survey of 300 electronics companies by the American Electronics Association found 73 percent had quality programs in place, but, of these, 63 percent said they had failed to improve quality by even as much as 10 percent.”  “A study of 30 quality programs by McKinsey & Co. found that two-thirds of them had stalled or fallen short of yielding real improvements.”

Then Paton made a simple but profound point:  “The ‘balkanization’ of TQM spreads on an almost daily basis as TQM splinters into ever-smaller spheres of influence like ISO 9000 and Reengineering…”  Then, after asking five noted quality experts for their respective definitions of TQM, Paton reports that he got five different answers.  To this he said that “TQM is a philosophy, not a science.  In that sense, Paton concluded, TQM wasn’t dead.  It’s failure just proved “that bad management is still alive and kicking.”

Obviously, the era of TQM can be characterized as a period of intellectual divergence in which a theoretical connection between quality and business performance was conceptually established.  In practical terms, however, no such connection was made outside the confines of isolated organizational and operational pockets.  Quality was good, but it was not necessarily good for all.  Quality was free, but it wasn’t always so free that it impacted the income statement.  Quality was focused, but not so much that it became a tour de force in the overall performance of a global corporation.

In the minds of senior executives, TQM was squarely about working on product quality problems, not about managing the business enterprise.  No one would deny the need for or importance of the quality function, as it was good for operations, good for its perceptual value and good in the eyes of the customer.  Like ISO 9000, TQM was a ticket to punch in the eyes of senior management.  It had reached its point of diminishing return in terms of providing the impetus and ingenuity needed for solving the business problems of the day.

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