Quality Management and Continuous Improvement

Total quality management (TQM) and continuous improvement that comes with it is one of the few management approaches or framework aimed at improving the effectiveness of an entire organization (Oakland, 2003). Business Process Reengineering (BPR) which is more popularly known as Business Process Reengineering thanks to a publication by Michael Hammer in Harvard Business Review (Hammer, 1990) is another known approach which is also aimed at improving an organization as a whole. These two approaches may share certain similarities among one another in certain areas but the outcome and core of its distinctive styles differ completely.

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However it should be noted that both share the common goal of turning a troubled organization or any organization for that matter, into a success story. The aim of this essay is to discuss the following statement, ‘Total Quality Management and Continuous Improvement, properly applied, render BPR unnecessary.’, and evaluate its accuracy or vagueness with supporting valid arguments and research findings that will give a clearer conclusion on the statement. The flow of this essay will begin by delving more thoroughly on the understanding of TQM together with a brief history of its existence and also ‘Continuous Improvement’ as part of the former, and not overlooking BPR as well, its history, followed by a critical analysis and comparison between the two approaches and lastly, a conclusion to sum it all up.

As Oakland explained in his book, total quality management (TQM) is considered an approach to further improve an organization in terms of effectiveness and flexibility by reorganizing and involving the whole organization at any and every level to cooperate with one another and move as a collective unit for it to be truly effective (Oakland, 2003). TQM first came to light when a group of authors such as Deming (1982, 1986) highlighted the application of statistical techniques for quality control and also suggested fourteen principles which he believed will further improve quality in organizations. Juran (1986) stressed the importance of technical and managerial aspects while identifying three basic functions of quality management process as opposed to Deming’s fourteen. Ishikawa (1985) was one of the earliest and also played a role which contributed to TQM.

From then on, TQM has been undergoing development based on these initial contributions. Due to this, the critical factors of TQM may vary between the different authors yet still sharing the common core elements as Claver described which are customer focus, leadership, quality planning, factual management, continuous improvement, human resource management, learning, process management, cooperation with suppliers and awareness in the social context (Claver et al., 2003). TQM has made significant progress compared to when it first came into existence being in line with statistics and quality control function. It has truly evolved from then, as today, TQM today is believed to be a “framework of integrated and inter-functional means of achieving and sustaining competitive advantage” (Saraph et al., 1989).

Other scholars such as Curkovic defined in similar ways and believed that, “TQM is an integrated management philosophy with a set of practices that establishes an organization-wide focus on quality” (Curkovic et al., 2000). To further understand the whole process, it is important to firstly have an idea as to what reference and extent the term ‘quality’ that is so often used here. In this context, quality here is more or less referred to as a composite measure of all aspects found in an organization which includes supplier, product, process and service quality performance (Brah et al., 2002).

Additionally, other aspects in relation to service quality performance such as reliability, durability, customer service, features and aesthetics, and conformance to specifications, all fall under the service quality category and are all taken into account as well (Flynn et al. 1995). Thus, TQM is generally based on continuous improvement in processes over a rather lengthy period of time but all for a very rewarding compensation which has said to be a major drive in breakthrough which only TQM can accomplish (Valentine and Knights, 1998).

Business process reengineering (BPR) on the other hand is the very process of transformation of production and administrative processes with the main objective and motivation being cost reduction as explained by Dale (2007). BPR originated from the views of Tom Davenport and James Short from a book they published in 1990 which very soon became a work in progress yet again, and was later popularized following formal concept by the writings of Hammer (1990) Hammer and Champy (1993) and many other philosophers. They all contributed in their own views and ways, to form BPR and any additional effort lent into further improving any detectable weaknesses of the approach was done to further improve the whole process.

According to MacDonald and Dale (2007), BPR employs two main approaches which happen to be process redesigning and process reengineering. They went on to explain that each respective approach are “based on taking a holistic and objective view of the core processes that are needed to accomplish specific business objectives without being constrained by what already exists” (MacDonald and Dale, 2007), adding that BPR covers a variety of activities that result in two different outcomes which happens to cause radical change to firstly individual processes and secondly, to the organization as a whole.

The differences, between these approaches are that the former is quick, fast with lower costs to implement however with lower chances of garnering anything beneficial while the latter requires significant amount of structural change to an organization. As for Hammer and Champy (1993), they explained that all reengineering measure is done by firstly carrying out process redesigning. The whole redesigning process can be done in different ways but it is also depending on the degree of alteration in which the process will be undertaking.

Though most of the time, primary focus is given to the core processes involving cross-functional boundaries and customer focused in general in order to handle process simplification, streamlining, mistake-proofing, adaptability and efficiency. So ultimately, BPR in general gives emphasis to structural process redesign and reengineering, not forgetting the fundamental rethinking of the business by disregarding the status quo completely, proceeding with its one step solution to a problem, which consequently leading claims of faster production returns in a relatively short period of time (Dale, 2007).