Last edited 13 Feb 2019

Total quality management in construction

Total quality management (TQM) is a theory of management the purpose of which is to improve an organisation’s ability to deliver quality to its customers on a continuously improving basis.

There are several differences between TQM and a traditional management system. TQM is a process-oriented as opposed to a result-oriented approach, and prioritises quality, flexibility and services rather than cost and technical efficiency. TQM involves a more horizontal organisational structure rather than the traditional vertical management structure. TQM presumes that profits follow quality and not vice versa.

As a philosophy, TQM is more associated with manufacturing and service industries, although has also been applied to construction as clients increasingly demand a high standard of delivery for large and complex buildings.

Although in construction, delays and defects can arise that are unavoidable, far more so than in a more controlled manufacturing environment, the application of TQM requires that the employee’s mindset be shifted from one of just monitoring to continually looking for opportunities to make improvements. TQM can be applied in construction as a way of approaching the conception, visualisation and achievement of goals to ensure quality and productivity, with an emphasis on innovation and new technology.

While there is no standard method of applying TQM, there are a number of typical elements:

  • The customer is the ultimate user, and wants a quality product at a reasonable price.
  • Feedback from customers should be analysed and implemented where necessary.
  • Top management should lead well with vision and commitment.
  • Employees should be encouraged and rewarded for good performance.
  • Training should be provided regularly to upgrade the skills of employees.
  • Conflicts should be avoided, and teams should work in unison toward a common goal.

The basic steps in implementation of TQM are as follows:

  • The client should give a commitment regarding quality.
  • A project quality assurance plan should be prepared for all work levels.
  • A process approach should be developed toward TQM.
  • Employees should be made aware of, and educated about TQM.
  • Employee involvement should be promoted and encouraged.
  • Steps should be taken to ensure continuous improvement can be made.
  • Quality plans and performance should be measured and reviewed.

Some of the benefits that can be derived from TQM include; reduction in quality costs, higher levels of employee and client satisfaction, less remedial work, fewer delays, and a closer relationships with subcontractors and suppliers.

A major limitation of TQM is the time and resources required to establish the correct environment and organisational culture.

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