Clegg, B. (2010), "International insights into twenty-first century quality management: facts or fashion?", International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Vol. 27 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijqrm.2010.04027baa.001Download as .RIS
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International insights into twenty-first century quality management: facts or fashion?
Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Volume 27, Issue 2
About the Guest Editor
Dr Clegg is a Senior Lecturer in Operations Management and Research Convenor in the Operations and Information Management Group at Aston Business School. He worked as a project manager for GEC before becoming an academic. He has had positions at De Montfort, Portsmouth, Birmingham City and Stanford (USA) Universities before joining Aston University. Ben’s teaching, research, training and consulting activities focus on strategic and operational transformation; namely systems thinking and enterprise management. He has published over 90 articles in top ranked journals, conferences and the popular press and has helped secure over £1.5m of research funding in recent years.
The Production and Operations Management World Conference always provides an exciting opportunity for operations management researchers from around the world to exchange ideas, and the 3rd World Conference in Tokyo in 2008 (5-8 August) was no exception. The 3rd World POM Conference was jointly organised by the North American Production and Operations Management Society (POMS), the European Operations Management Association (EurOMA) and the Japanese Operations Management and Strategy Association (JOMSA).
There was a richness of papers in the quality management stream and this special issue is based on a broad range of them. Methodologies range from highly mathematical experimental design to qualitative case studies and critical literature reviews. The papers are set in the contexts of service, logistics, operations, online retailing and manufacturing. One thing that became very apparent from this stream, talking to quality management researchers in general and reviewing these papers, is the need to portray both the soft phenomenological issues and the positivist facts about quality management with suitable measure; in other words one needs to get the right balance between the quantitative and the qualitative aspects of quality management to ensure that the correct image is promoted.
One topical debate focuses on which methodological approach is best; the debate specifically focuses on “lean thinking”, “Six Sigma” and “total quality management” (TQM). The strengths and weakness of each approach were greatly debated and in-depth comparisons have been made between them. It is the intended purpose of this Special Issue to build upon this debate using international perspectives. Some researchers endorse combining, rather than differentiating these approaches, whilst others highlight that there is an element of marketing and faddishness to these approaches. The prevailing opinion concurred that there was much to be gained from combining these approaches and using their associated toolsets and crucial success factors (CSFs) together rather than trying to distinguish and divide them to discuss and use separately. This feeling is captured nicely by Dahlgaard and Dahlgaard-Park (2006) when they state that:
… the principles, concepts and tools of lean production and six sigma quality should not be seen as alternatives to TQM but rather as a collection of concepts and tools, which support the overall principles and aims of TQM […] the five principles and the aim of lean production as well as the principles and tools behind the six sigma process are embedded in the principles, concepts and tools of the holistic management philosophy called TQM […] It has been shown that the lean production philosophy and the six sigma steps are essentially the same, and both have developed from the same root – the Japanese TQM practices.Andersson et al. (2006) also endorse this when they say that, “there is a lot to gain if organisations are able to combine these three concepts”. Furthermore, the author also concurs with these opinions.
Another topic, much currently debated, is the initial definition of a quality problem and the classification and measurement of its success, as these are both highly subjective issues that make comparisons between projects and organisations hard to draw. Debates often imply that more standardisation of practice across the profession would be beneficial. In extreme cases one is even able to see a cultural multiplicity arising in a single organisation; for instance, those having safety critical processes (such as surgical operations in hospitals, aircraft per-flight checks or bomb detections by the military) running alongside non-safety critical processes needing lower capability levels (e.g. administration or inventory management). Such cultural multiplicities need to be recognised if confusion amongst the workforce and quality management communities of practice is to be avoided. To further add to the complexity, public service organisations have different mission objectives to private sector organisations and the different cultural and contextual values need to be considered (e.g. in the military cost saving is less important than process and procedural conformity, and in the NHS patient mortality rates are more important than efficiency); this needs to be taken into account when selecting projects and measuring their successes.
Because of the above and other associated issues, quality management is sometimes maligned by its critics for being modish and unscientific, but much of this is due to lack of understanding by those outside the quality management community; and sometimes even by those within it. For instance, quality “experts” value advanced tools more because they perceive them to have higher impact on operational performance. In contrast, “non-expert” users are more inclined to say that advanced tools are not necessary – even though often they do not understand them fully. This implies that it is important to clearly demonstrate the benefits of advanced tools to people who are less au fait with them so that their utilisation rates increase amongst the “non-expert” user community and new “experts” and users develop for the future. This Special Issue aims to recognise the correct role of marketing in quality management and the softer people issues are given their rightful place alongside the scientific positivist elements of quality management. For instance, the soft CSFs of quality management should be adopted whenever possible, and if too many are neglected it can result in quality management initiatives falling into jeopardy; the implication is to make people well aware of the golden CSFs and embed them into the culture of an organisation – just as quality tools need to be. In addition the successes of quality improvement need to accurately and positively communicated to it stakeholders; hence, to be successful, marketing activities need to address the voice of the external customer (VOC), the internal political stakeholders, soft and technical issues.
Other debates revolve around:
The need to select the correct tools for a particular project and to realise that they will alter with the size and complexity of any particular project. The implication is that there is a need to create a “road-map” style guide to steer inexperienced users into making the right choices. This is especially apparent in small and medium sized organisations where the cost of appointing an in-house “expert” is often prohibitive.
The urgency of a quality management project, rather than its complexity and content, which is sometimes wrongly the significant factor in the selection of appropriate tools. This implies that many tools are often misapplied in a rush and advanced tools are underused, misunderstood and wrongly maligned.
The level of quality. It is believed that the majority of businesses who said they were using six sigma were more interested in just improving their current performance levels rather than actually reaching a six sigma level (<3.4 defects per million opportunities). Some researchers believed that between four and five sigma was adequate to satisfy customer requirements and that the costs of achieving higher levels of quality conformance was considered prohibitive. The implication here is that many organisations set themselves up for failure from the onset, by not reaching the Six Sigma level, without needing to.
In summary, it did not matter to the participants what the overall approach was called (e.g. Six Sigma, lean management, lean Six Sigma, TQM or something else entirely) so long as it worked and was seen to be working. This implies that it is more important to focus upon the cultural acceptance and technical quality of quality management programmes rather than its methodological name – just as long as it had a positive image. Also, common prevailing wisdom still considers that the latest reincarnations of quality management are still based upon the classic principles that have been around for decades. However, the expectations of higher tolerance limits and increased competition have made the implementation of programmes and the role of training increasingly important. Debates also suggests that some common myths of quality management are not true; such as:
quality management is not practised widely or successfully in the service sector like it is in the manufacturing sector: not true, as many examples are emerging from the service sector;
those that practice quality always say it works well all of the time: not true, discussion suggested that practitioners say it only works mostly, most of the time and are themselves discerning critics of its deployment;
training doesn’t work: not true, because there are many evidence-based cases to show that training has had a positive impact.
Researchers imply that in the future there are many points still to be addressed if quality management is to maximise its full potential; many of these revolve around the accurate measurement and selection of projects, the comparison and declaration of delivered benefits, and the cost of resources consumed in achieving them. In addition, training needs to focus on the initial understanding of tools, the endorsement of classical CSFs and the subsequent deployment of them within a suitable methodological framework that presents the correct blend of scientific fact-based tools and stylish appeal for its users.
POMS, EurOMA and JOMSA conferences and events have always provided a rich and valuable learning environment in which to share developments in operations and production management. I hope that you enjoy this special issue and that it whets your appetite to attend events co-organised by these leading OM Associations in the future and contribute to such debates.
1. Specify value by specific product; identify the value stream for each product; make the value flow without interruptions; let the customer pull value from the producer; and pursue perfection.
The Guest Editor would like to thank José A.D. Machuca, University of Seville Chris Voss, London Business School, and Michiya Morita, Gakushuin University for the opportunity to produce this special issue. Thanks also go to Angel Martinez-Lorente, University Polytechnic of Cartagena, for assisting the editorial process and all the authors who submitted papers (15 were initially invited for submission). Thanks are also due to the reviewers who have helped shape this special issue: Amrik Sohal, Monash University; Angappa Gunasekaran, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; David Bennett, Ming Lim, William Ho and Carole Parkes, Aston University; CP Kartha, University of Michigan; Jens Jorn Dahlgaard, Linköping University; Hale Kaynak, University of Texas – Pan American; Stephen Disney, University of Cardiff; Nathan Proudlove, University of Manchester; Thomas Harris, Queens University; Lenny Koh, University of Sheffield; Lucía Abella, University of Oviedo; Edward Arnheiter, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; James Tannock, Nottingham University; Javier González, University of Salamanca; Mario Binder, ZLU Consulting und Management; Mar Fuentes, University of Granada; Chris Rees and Mike Titchen, SigmaPro; Roger Jiao, Nanyang Technical University of Singapore; Kurt Matzler, Johannes Kepler University. The Guest Editor would also like to thank Ton Van der Wiele (RSM Erasmus University), Ruth Heppenstall and Lucy Sootheran at Emerald for their assistance.
Ben CleggGuest Editor
Andersson, R., Eriksson, H. and Torstensson, H. (2006), “Similarities and differences between TQM, six sigma and lean”, The TQM Magazine, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 282–96Dahlgaard, J.J. and Dahlgaard-Park, S.M. (2006), “Lean production, six sigma quality, TQM and company culture”, The TQM Magazine, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 263–81