Disappointments and Criticism

Unfortunately, with all the hype and rhetoric (and the unfortunate three-letter-acronym, TQM), organizations scrambled to institute quality programs in the early 1990s. In their haste, many failed, leading to very disappointing results. Consequently, TQM met some harsh criticism. In reference to Douglas Aircraft, a troubled subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas Corporation (since merged with Boeing Corporation), Newsweek stated, “The aircraft maker three years ago embraced ‘total quality management,’ a Japanese import that had become the American business cult of the 1980s… Douglas, TQM appeared to be just one more hothouse Japanese flower never meant to grow on rocky ground.”

Other articles in The Wall Street Journal (“Quality Programs Show Shoddy Results,” May 14, 1992) and the New York Times (“ The Lemmings Who Love Total Quality,” May 3, 1992) suggested that total quality approaches were passing fads and inherently flawed. However, reasons for TQM failures usually were rooted in organizational approaches and management systems, such as poor quality strategies or good strategies that were poorly executed, and not in the foundation principles of quality management.

As the editor of Quality Digest put it: “ No, TQM isn’t dead. TQM failures just prove that bad management is still alive and kicking.” A poor strategic business decision such as an inappropriate merger or acquisition, over-emphasis on financial performance, or a change in top management can easily undo years of effort to build a quality-focused organization, as was apparent at Ford and Xerox.

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