July 15, 1993
Total Quality Management, often identified as a key element in the global success of Japanese industry, is another example of an American innovation where the US yielded the lead to Japan. Fortunately TQM, developed during and after World War II by people like W. Edwards Deming and JM Juran, has been finding widening application in US industry, and has even been flagged by President Clinton as part of his strategy to “reinvent government.”
TQM is often seen as a way to cut waste. Now that we’re coming to understand that waste lives not only in defects, but also in pollution, then “Total Quality” must mean an ultimate goal of zero pollution‹whether for the individual firm, or for a cluster of companies in an “industrial ecosystem.”
Fortunately the US is leading in a related innovation – Total Quality Environmental Management‹that hopefully won’t undergo the long lonely exile of TQM. TQEM applies the practical wisdom of TQM to environmental managementŠ and to the growing challenge of bringing “total quality” to the environmental aspects of economic life.
Four key streams – Ecology, Cybernetics, Respect and Profitability – weave together in TQEM.
Ecology teaches that industrial systems must embody the principles of rich interconnection, resilience and tight, rapid feedback that we find in natural systems – which after all are the successful result of billions of years of R&D in competition and efficiency.
In cybernetics, the law of requisite variety provides technical proof for what every good manager already knows: you can’t know enough to manage everything yourself, you have to empower and equip your front line.
TQM, though often seen as an management/engineering system, is built on profound respect for the creativity and maturity of every employee, valuing human capability (both cultural and technical) and encouraging creative participation at every level. As management consultant Stewart Sagar puts it, “In the information age, its all the more important to understand that the real resources are not the machines, but the minds.”
Finally, the quest for profitability must mean a fierce commitment to customer satisfaction and continuous quality improvement for any kind of defect, from poor performance to environmental pollution. You simply won’t be competitive in the 21st century economy without it that commitment, and the ability to deliver on it.
The Classic TQM Cycle works equally well with TQEM:
- Step One, Plan. Understand the gaps between present state and desired state, set priorities, and develop an action plan.
- Step Two, Do. Implement the changes, and collect data on actual results.
- Step Three, Check. Observe the effects, analyze the data, pinpoint problems.
- Step Four, Act. Study the results, redesign systems, change standards, communicate broadly and retrain. And repeat the cycle‹continually.
The Global Environmental Management Initiative, a collaboration of several dozen major US firms, identifies four additional TQEM elements:
- Identify your customer – both external and internal. Motorola, a pacesetter in quality systems, trains its people to recognize “customers” in virtually every interaction, and to satisify them totally.
- Commit to continuous improvement: No matter how good you are, you can always do better; yesterday’s “impossible” may become tomorrow’s “taken for granted,” especially in the fast-evolving world of environmental quality.
- Do the job right the first time: The cost of quality is the cost that quality failures impose on your company.
- Take a systems approach to work. Deming observes that “…apparent differences between people arise almost entirely from the action of the system that they work in, not from the people themselves.”
TQM provides a critical part of the framework for what Stafford Beer calls “autonomy in a coherent whole” – business goals and feedback systems clear enough that business units and personnel have the flexibility to meet those goals, without the cumbersome command and control structures of the past.
A well designed and implemented TQEM system turns information into action. In a forthcoming column, I’ll discuss environmental information management systems (EIMS) that can support this process.