History of Quality, TQM, and Business Excellence

The following shows the history of quality, from inspection to business excellence.


Inspection involves measuring, examining, and testing products, process and services against specified requirements to determine conformity. Inspection involves measuring, examining, and testing products, process and services against specified requirements to determine conformity. 

The use of inspection has been evident throughout the history of organised production. In the late Middle Ages, special measures were taken to inspect the work of apprentices and journeymen in order to guard the Guild against claims of makeshift or shoddy work. 

During the early years of manufacturing, inspection was used to decide whether a worker’s job or a product met the requirements; therefore, acceptable. It was not done in a systematic way but worked well when the volume of production was reasonably low. However, as organisations became larger, the need for more effective operations became apparent. 

In 1911, Frederick W. Taylor helped to satisfy this need. He published ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ which provided a framework for the effective use of people in industrial organisations. One of Taylor’s concepts was clearly defined tasks performed under standard conditions. Inspection was one of these tasks and

  • was intended to ensure that no faulty product left the factory or workshop;
  • focuses on the product and the detection of problems in the product;
  • involves testing every item to ensure that it complies with product specifications;
  • is carried out at the end of the production process; and relies on specially trained inspectors.

This movement led to the emergence of a separate inspection department. An important new idea that emerged from this new department was defect prevention, which led to quality control. 

Inspection still has an important role in modern quality practices. However, it is no longer seen as the answer to all quality problems. Rather, it is one tool within a wider array. 


Quality Control and Statistical Theory

Quality Control was introduced to detect and fix problems along the production line to prevent the production of faulty products. Statistical theory played an important role in this area. In the 1920s, Dr W. Shewhart developed the application of statistical methods to the management of quality. He made the first modern control chart and demonstrated that variation in the production process leads to variation in product. Therefore, eliminating variation in the process leads to a good standard of end products.

Statistical Quality Control:

  • focuses on product and the detection and control of quality problems;
  • involves testing samples and statistically infers compliance of all products;
  • is carried out at stages through the production process; and
  • relies on trained production personnel and quality control professionals.

Shewart’s work was later developed by Deming, Dodge and Roming. However, manufacturing companies did not fully utilise these techniques until the late 1940s.


Quality in Japan

In the 1940s, Japanese products were perceived as cheap, shoddy imitations. Japanese industrial leaders recognised this problem and aimed to produce innovative high-quality products. They invited quality gurus, such as Deming, Juran, and Feigenbaum to learn how to achieve this aim.

In the 1950s, quality control and management developed quickly and became a main theme of Japanese management. The idea of quality did not stop at the management level. Quality circles started in the early 60s. A quality circle is a volunteer group of workers who meet and discuss issues to improve any aspects of workplace and make presentations to management with their ideas. A by-product of quality circles was employee motivation. Workers felt that they were involved and heard. Another by-product was the idea of improving not only quality of the products, but also every aspect of organisational issues. This probably was the start of the idea, total quality.


Total Quality

The term ‘total quality’ was used for the first time in a paper by Feigenbaum at the first international conference on quality control in Tokyo in 1969. The term referred to wider issues within an organisation.

Ishikawa also discussed ‘total quality control’ in Japan, which is different from the western idea of total quality. According to his explanation, it meant ‘company-wide quality control’ that involves all employees, from top management to the workers, in quality control.


Total Quality Management

In the 1980s to the 1990s, a new phase of quality control and management began. This became known as Total Quality Management (TQM). Having observed Japan’s success of employing quality issues, western companies started to introduce their own quality initiatives. TQM, developed as a catchall phrase for the broad spectrum of quality-focused strategies, programmes and techniques during this period, became the centre of focus for the western quality movement.

A typical definition of TQM includes phrases such as: customer focus, the involvement of all employees, continuous improvement and the integration of quality management into the total organisation. Although the definitions were all similar, there was confusion. It was not clear what sort of practices, policies, and activities needed to be implemented to fit the TQM definition.


Business Excellence

In 1988 a major step forward in quality management was made with the development of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the United States. The model, on which the award was based, represented the first clearly defined and internationally recognised TQM model. It was developed by the United States government to encourage companies to adopt the model and improve their competitiveness.

In response to this, a similar model was developed by the European Foundation of Quality Management in 1992 and became the framework for the European Quality Award.

As mentioned earlier, there was confusion as to what TQM was in the 80s and early 90s. This was because any business improvement programme was becoming called TQM. Therefore, the name of TQM had become tarnished. In response to this, the award bodies that used the Baldrige, EFQM or similar criteria for national awards from the mid-1990’s onwards dropped the reference to TQM and re-branded them as Business Excellence Models (or productivity models) to make them more appealing to businesses.

Business excellence or organisational excellence is an appropriate term as it represents the need for “excellence” across all of an organisation’s management systems and processes to improve performance and create value for stakeholders. Business excellence models help organizations to assess their strengths and areas for improvement and guide them to sustainable and measurable success. In a sense, the models serve as an organisation’s own internal business consultant – ensuring that business decisions incorporate the needs of all stakeholders, are aligned to objectives, and consider current knowledge of best practices.

In 2021, there were 57 countries with active business excellence awards and 74 countries in total that promote business excellence.


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