Total quality management is the monitoring of processes and the peo­ple who perform those processes. It takes the spotlight off the finished product or service as the measurement of quality and instead scrutinizes the many little steps that lead to the finished product or service. While requiring a new definition of quality to recognize that it is client-driven, TQM also requires an expanded concept of who the customers are.

The traditional customer is the one who places the order and pays the bill. Every employee in the company must understand the obliga­tion to satisfy the external customer and exceed his or her expectations. However, TQM recognizes other customers, internal customers, who are the employees of the company and who receive the output of the process that precedes theirs. Each internal customer-employee receives data or material from another employee, then does something with it or to it, and passes it along to his or her internal customer, the next employee working in the process. As an example, to get a bench of mums in flower by a particular date requires that the cuttings be planted in the bench on an exact date weeks earlier. The propagator must take the cuttings, get them rooted, and deliver them to the grower exactly on time if the mature plants are to be in bloom on time. The propagator’s internal cus­tomer is the grower awaiting the rooted cuttings. The grower’s internal customer is the sales staff who have orders to fill from florists.

The larger a company is, the more internal customers it has. Employees need to know the exact form of the input they are to receive from the person whose work precedes theirs. They must also know what their role in the process is, and in what form and standard their output must be passed to their internal customer. Each employee’s work must be done completely and correctly before being passed along. Each employee within the company is simultaneously a provider of materials or services and an internal customer. As a provider, the employee strives to satisfy his or her internal customer. In the role of internal customer, the employee is obligated to demand complete and correct input from the provider. Failure of any employee to reject faulty input will make the process defective and result in a substandard finished product or ser­vice, the ultimate disservice to the external customer.

Giving so much responsibility to employees empowers them in ways that are foreign to older, centralized management systems. Employee empowerment also permits workers to initiate the changes that they believe will improve the processes for which they are responsible.

Improvement Must Be Continuous For companies seeking to imple­ment a total quality management program, commitment and patience are essential. Improvements cannot be applied to the entire company by declaration or fiat. A company cannot close tonight and reopen tomorrow with a full TQM philosophy in place. Improvement is gradual, addressing one step and process at a time. The problem in a process is first identified. Then it must be determined if the problem results from improper employee performance or from some other reason. If employee malfunction is the reason for the problem, the person should be trained in the proper method and then required to perform prop­erly thereafter. If the problem stems from another cause, it should be identified and a solution developed. Employees must then be trained in the new process. An evaluation period must be allowed to ensure that the solution was a correct one and truly improves the process. If so, then the new process must be explained and taught to everyone in the company who is involved directly or indirectly with the process. The result of this improvement will be some type of saving in time or mate­rials, or other costs. Then the process begins again. One small positive change follows another in an ongoing program of incremental improve­ments. Total quality management is continuous. It never ends because improvements are never finished.