Principles of Good Product Development

Quality is a must - TQM approach

Total Quality Management (TQM) is an approach to the art of management that has become steadily more popular in the West since the early 1980's. In a couple of sentences, Total Quality can be summarized as a description of the culture, attitude and organization of a company that aims to provide, and continue to provide, its customers with products and services that satisfy their needs. The culture requires quality in all aspects of the company's operations, with things being done right first time, and defects and waste eradicated from operations. The key points of TQM include:
  • customer-driven quality
  • TQM leadership from top management
  • continuous improvement
  • fast response to customer requirements
  • actions based on data and analysis
  • participation by all employees
  • a TQM culture
TQM has a customer-first orientation. Customer satisfaction is seen as the company's highest priority. This demands constant sensitivity to customers and fast response to their requirements. Each part of the company is involved in Total Quality, operating as a customer to some functions and as a supplier to others. Vendors are seen as partners in the process of providing customer satisfaction.

Top management commitment and involvement is required in creating and deploying clear quality values and goals consistent with the objectives of the company, and in creating and deploying well defined systems, methods and performance measures for achieving those goals. Such systems and methods guide all quality activities and encourage participation by all employees. The development and use of performance indicators is linked, directly or indirectly, to customer requirements and satisfaction, and to employee remuneration.

Continuous improvement of all operations and activities is at the heart of TQM. Because customer satisfaction can only be achieved by providing a high-quality product, continuous improvement of the quality of the product is seen as the only way to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction. As well as recognizing the link between product quality and customer satisfaction, TQM also recognizes that product quality is the result of process quality. As a result, there is a focus on continuous improvement of the company's processes. This will lead to an improvement in process quality. In turn this will lead to an improvement in product quality, and to an increase in customer satisfaction. Improvement cycles are encouraged for all activities from design and development of products, through routine support and administrative services, to customer relationship management. To achieve continuous improvement the company has to measure and analyze its own performance and that of other companies.

Elimination of waste is a major component of the quality improvement approach. There is also a strong emphasis on prevention rather than detection, hence an emphasis on quality at the design stage. The customer-driven process helps to prevent errors and get closer to defect-free production. When problems do occur within the product development process, the aim is to identify and solve them rather than hide them. As a result, they are generally discovered and resolved before they can get to the next internal customer.

Fast response is required in the form of ever shorter product and service introduction cycles and more rapid response to customer needs. This means that all activities should include measurement and monitoring of cycle time and responsiveness as a basis for identifying opportunities for improvement. Among the main benefits of customer-driven and process-oriented product development are the resulting simplicity and efficiency that greatly reduce the time involved. Simplicity is gained through the concurrent efforts of design teams, and efficiencies are realized from the elimination of non-value-added effort such as re-design. The result is a dramatic reduction in the elapsed time from product concept until first shipment.

At the heart of TQM is the statistical analysis of engineering and manufacturing information. Facts, data and analysis support the planning, review and tracking of performance, improvement of operations, and comparisons of quality performance with competitors. TQM is based on the use of objective data, and provides a rational rather than an emotional basis for decision making. The statistical approach to process management recognizes that most problems are system-related, and are not caused by particular employees. The approach ensures that data is collected and placed in the hands of the people who are in the best position to analyze it, and then take the appropriate action to reduce costs and prevent non-conformance. If the right information is not available, then the analysis, whether it be of shop floor data, or engineering test results, can not take place, errors can not be identified, and consequently errors can not be corrected.

A successful TQM environment requires a committed and well-trained workforce that participates in quality improvement activities. Such participation is reinforced by reward and recognition systems emphasizing the achievement of quality objectives. On-going education and training of all employees supports the drive for quality. Employees are encouraged to take more responsibility, communicate more effectively, act creatively, and innovate. Their knowledge and skills are respected by management.

Without a TQM approach, Engineering and product development are usually carried out in a conflictual atmosphere with individual departments reacting to problems. Changes, scrap, delays, work-arounds, waste, and rework are seen as normal behavior. Management focuses on supervising individuals. Fire-fighting is necessary and rewarded.

In a TQM environment, Engineering and product development are customer-driven. They are focused on quality and on preventing problems rather than reacting to them. Teams are process-oriented, and interact with their internal customers to deliver the required results. Management's focus is on controlling the overall process, and rewarding teamwork.

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Page last modified on March 10, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark