Limits of Total Quality Management

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Many of the problems associated with quality programs are the result of increased complexity. The half-life concept, a new tool, strives to make complexity more manageable. By doing

Are There Limits to

so, learning is accelerated and improvement becomes continuous.

B Y A R T H U R M . S C H N E I D E R M A N

plateau. A diagnosis carried out by the 21-member executive group singled out the root cause as lack of demonstrated commitment to Total Quality Management (T.Q.M.) by this very same group. As vice president of quality and productivity improvement, I was expected to come up with possible corrective action. My solution was that each member of the group take the most critical issue facing him and apply T.Q.M. methods and tools for its resolution. The resulting success stories would dramatically demonstrate to the entire organization that top management practices what it preaches. My suggestion was met with universal skepticism. Although they all




were unable to explain their opposition, the group members expressed their instinctive rejection of the idea. “My take is that that’s exactly the wrong thing to do,” one of them said. “I don’t have the time to waste on something that I know will not work,” another said. Such views were nearly unanimous. I had given them a standard T.Q.M. response, and they had emphatically turned it down. I knew that understanding what was behind their instincts to reject T.Q.M. was a key to returning us to our path of continuous improvement. Shortly after that, I was a guest at a two-day T.Q.M. training session held at a company that had won a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The instructor was an outside consultant from one of the largest and most prestigious T.Q.M. organizations in the

United States. During the final question-and-answer period, I asked the instructor whether he felt there were any problems that were not solvable using T.Q.M.’s seven management and planning tools (the subject of the training course). His answer was unexpected. He assured us that there were no limits to these tools. “In fact,” he went on to say, “I believe that we could quickly cure cancer if we could only get the research community to use these tools.” This answer was in sharp contrast to a response I had received a month earlier to a similar question. That time I was participating in a meeting of senior executives who were studying and applying Hoshin Kanri (another T.Q.M. tool) in planning and implementing breakthroughs in their organizations. Our instructor was a

of rapid quality improvement, progress at Analog Devices Inc. began to

Arthur M. Schneiderman is an independent consultant headquartered in Boxford, Mass. He specializes in helping senior managers identify, measure and improve their most critical processes. Mr. Schneiderman was formerly vice president of quality and productivity improvement at Analog Devices Inc. Before that he was a consultant with Bain & Company. Mr. Schneiderman is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holding B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in management from the Sloan School. Copyright ©1992-1998 Arthur M. Schneiderman. All rights reserved.

Issue 11








al Comple

ence with the Analog De7 9 11

question of whether there exists a complexity level above which improvement fails and the half-life becomes infinite. I have continued studying the relationship between T.Q.M. and process complexity. I have presented the half-life concept at dozens of conferences and numerous business school classes. It is the subject of a Harvard Business School case study2 and has been described in several recent books on the subject of performance measurement.3, 4, 5 I have also benefited from discussion with...
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