Back in the eighties and nineties, TQM was extremely popular. At that time, I was working in the National Productivity Board, and we had regular attachments of Japanese short-term experts coming to Singapore for periods of two to three weeks. I was assigned as a counterpart to an expert in TQC by the name of Motomu Baba. I learned a lot from him. I was also sent for a one-month TQC course in Japan in 1989. However, in recent years, TQM has become less popular. Many companies that implement TQM ran into difficulties.
Hence, in this course, we devoted a significant amount of time to looking at the pitfalls that companies will face when they implement TQM. In preparing for this assignment, I realized that there are very few books and resources that deal with the so-called ‘failures’. Most books discuss only the success stories and prescribed steps on how to carry out TQM. As such, I had to develop quite a bit of my own materials; including some case studies; but it was a great learning experience for me as well.
As the main objective was to train consultants and trainers who can help SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) with what they learned in this course, I taught them a very simple model of TQM which the participants liked a lot. My model comprised a few key elements:
1) Six core quality concepts
2) Quality Management
3) Quality Improvement
4) Employee Involvement (including 5S and Quality Circles)
As part of the curriculum, the trainees were divided into groups and sent to companies to carry out what we called Field Practice; i.e. to apply what they learned in the actual company environment. I was not involved in this part of the training.
Another interesting segment of the course was a lesson conducted via video-conference by a Japanese TQM expert in Japan. I participated in that session and learnt quite a bit from the Japanese expert by the name of Noboru Machida. Some insights I gained include:
1) In Japan, they do not adopt a common model or concept of TQM. Many organizations develop their own unique approach and gave it a name of their own. In Singapore, our civil service called their’s PS21.
2) One mistake that companies made was to try to implement everything in one go which is too ambitious. Mr Machida likened TQM to a big banquet or buffet. It is not possible to sample every dish. Depending on the company’s own situation, they should choose those relevant aspects and embark on that first; and then slowly build up their own TQM from there.
3) It is wrong to use the words like ‘failure’ or ‘success’ in TQM implementation. Rather, we should adopt a PDCA approach of continuous improvement. After each cycle, we review where we have gone wrong and then we improve on the next cycle.
4) He also shared an interesting feature of the Toyota culture of “People can speak Failure” and “Learn from trouble”. It encourages staff to give honest reports so that they can see what went wrong and then proceed to improve by prevent recurrence of past mistakes.
I took the opportunity to ask some questions about the practical aspects of implementing Hoshin Kanri in a small organisation. Incidentally, he found the name of my firm very meaningful and wished that he had thought of it when he first started out on his own.
I feel a bit sad that many organizations have abandoned TQM just because there has been many ‘failures’. I believe at that time, many of us, including the consultants were still new to the subject; and there was a shortage of good training materials and case studies. Today that has changed; but unfortunately, many organizations have become wary of the name TQM and prefer to move on to newer methodologies like Six Sigma. Maybe, it would be more productive if they had stuck to one system. Anyway, that is only my opinion, and I certainly do not want to go into a debate of TQM vs 6 Sigma.
As always, I found great pleasure in teaching participants from the less developed countries. They are very keen to learn and show great respect to the teacher. I hope I can find the opportunity to go these countries, just like the time I went to Myanmar in 2005 to share my expertise with them.