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Why quality management programs fail October 7, 2009

Posted by Bima Hermastho in TQM Domain.
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A strategic and operations management perspective

The Authors
Muhammad Asif, School of Management and Governance, University of Twente, Enschede,The Netherlands
Erik Joost de Bruijn, School of Management and Governance, University of Twente, Enschede,The Netherlands
Alex Douglas, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
Olaf A.M. Fisscher, School of Management and Governance, University of Twente, Enschede,The Netherlands

Journal: International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Volume: 26, Number: 8, Year: 2009, pp: 778-794

Abstract

Purpose – This paper seeks to elaborate the reasons why quality management programs (QMPs) frequently fail to produce the intended results, and to demonstrate how QMPs could be effectively institutionalised in an organisational setting.
Design/methodology/approach – A survey of literature from different management fields was carried out to determine how the main issues about QMPs’ implementation are discussed in diverse areas (such as strategic and operations management) and how useful insights regarding better implementation and institutionalisation of QMPs could thus be induced.
Findings – To harness maximum benefits, QMPs need to be implemented as a meta-methodology (or meta-management) targeting the whole enterprise. The QMPs need to be effectively integrated with the business strategy, which steers the business processes towards its unique competitive advantage. An undesirable scenario would be employing QMPs as sub-methodologies that take the form of tools and techniques (quick fixes) and thus remain as stand-alone programs which fail to yield desired results. Institutionalisation of QMPs requires a context specific design that promotes greater buy-in by employees; developing the routines and structures that act as memory of organisational knowledge, and nurturing a common and fostering culture (instead of various sub-cultures). Managerial intent of QMP implementation, i.e. performance improvement or legitimisation in the eyes of stakeholders, also determines the success or failures of QMPs.
Practical implications – This paper should provide practitioners and academics with a better understanding of managerial actions and factors that lead QMPs to failures and how such problems could be tackled. This research also provides a better understanding of managerial actions about QMPs implementation that are actually counter-productive.
Originality/value – The paper contributes to theory and practice by explaining the reasons for QMPs failures and thus how such failures could be prevented. The research has significant originality, as there is little research to date focusing on the QMPs problems explained through perspectives from strategic management and operations management literature.

1. Introduction

In the current hyper-competitive environment, industry has seen an expansion in the definition of quality which is now considered to be “the ability to deliver excellence to all interested parties” (Karapetrovic, 2003). This extended definition implies that focusing on customer satisfaction, which was the main notion of traditional quality assurance, without simultaneously addressing the financial, operational, societal, and other aspects of performance, is no longer sufficient (Karapetrovic, 2003). Modern quality improvement programs and excellence models (EMs) (such as of EFQM and MBNQA) are oriented around this broader definition of quality. Quality management programs (QMPs) as described in this paper are an umbrella term for a number of quality management and improvement programs such as quality assurance (QA), quality management (QM), total quality management (TQM), EMs, Six Sigma, and integrated management system (IMS). Some authors (Benner and Tushman, 2003; Benner and Veloso, 2008) used the term “process management practices” for such quality improvement programs. While these process-focused practices differ in scope and approach, they share a core focus on systematic attention to operational processes in organisations. Process management programs entail three main practices: mapping processes, improving process, and then adhering to systems of improved processes (Benner and Tushman, 2003).

Sousa and Voss (2001) and Spencer (1994) noted that QM and other management philosophies have mainly been led by practitioners. The QMPs have been practiced extensively and as such have been a popular topic for research. However despite the promising performance improvement results these QMPs have produced, we have also observed researchers and practitioners reporting extensive failures associated with the implementations of these programs. The list below summarizes some references to QMPs failures reported in the literature:

  • Put together all the independent research only one-fifth or at its best only one-third of TQM programs in the United States and Europe have achieved success (Harari, 1993).
  • The quality management programs had very promising starts and encouraging initial results, but died down after two-three years (Shih and Gurnani, 1997).
  • Only a small number of organisations have observed significant improvements through TQM programs (Garvin, 1986).
  • All reports of best practices, whether TQM, MRP II, JIT, FMS, etc., show that there is substantial failure rate in the implementation of each practice. Partial implementation, failure to achieve desired performance change and abandoned programs are commonplace (Voss, 1995)
  • Failure rate for the initiated TQM programs is 95 per cent (Burrows (1992) cited in Choi and Eboch (1998)).
  • Many corporate managers have invested heavily in total quality efforts, whereas others have waited for “hard” evidence that it works (Spencer, 1994).
  • The presence of ISO standards for quality management does not ensure the functionality of a quality system in an organisation (Brown and Van der Wiele, 1996; Gotzamani, 2005; Sroufe and Curkovic, 2008).
  • Two-third of the TQM programs are terminated, because they did not lead to expected results (Economist (1992) cited in Choi and Eboch (1998)).
  • Organisations fail to implement up to 70 per cent of their strategic initiatives (Miller (2002) cited in Saunders et al. (2008)).
  • TQM practices may add disappointedly little to organisational performance, and thus little to the satisfaction of the customers who are thought to be performance-conscious (Choi and Eboch, 1998).

The failures associated with QMP failures are wide spread and have also been reported by Atkinson (1993), Beer (2003), Beyer et al. (1997), Dale (2003), Oakland and Tanner (2007), Tata and Prasad (1998), Van der Wiele (1998), Van Marrewijk and Hardjono (2003), Williams et al. (2006), Zbaracki (1998), among others. The crux of the debate is that these failures have caused many practitioners to lose faith in QMPs. Since their implementation requires lots of effort and resources; such failures also raise questions about the usefulness of these programs. Failed TQM programs inoculate the organisation against learning and change in the future. Each successive change initiative is suspected as another “flavour of the month”. Employees comply but do not make an emotional commitment (Beer, 2003).

After the large amount of hype QMPs have enjoyed, it is necessary to deliberate on accumulated knowledge in order to evaluate their reasons for failures. The reasons for QMPs’ failures have been investigated by many researchers which have resulted in the better identification of problems and the development of a more organized approach to the solutions to the problems. The noteworthy work in this regard is by Harari (1993), Shih and Gurnani (1997), and Hermel (1997) who pointed out reasons for QMPs’ implementation failures. Zbaracki (1998) urged the need to distinguish between “TQM as rhetoric” and “TQM as reality”. He found that managers consumed the rhetoric of success about TQM, used that rhetoric to develop their TQM program, and then filtered their experiences to present their own rhetoric of success. Consequently, the discourse on TQM developed an overly optimistic view of TQM. Based on Zbaracki (1998), Beer (2003) found that the inability of management to inquire into the gap between rhetorical and real TQM was responsible for TQM implementation failures. Benner and Tushman (2003) found that QMPs are most effective in a stable and exploitative environment (characterized by exploitation of existing capabilities; see explorative environment). While they speed exploitation and efficiency to give short run benefits, they also dampen the exploration required for long-term advantage. There is abundant literature that focuses on some specific QMP to elaborate on the methods of implementation or some other aspect. However proportionately scanty literature exists on why QMPs fail and how they could be revived after their demise or prevented from failing in the first place.

The literature on QMPs is pretty much divorced from other fields such as operations management (OM) and strategic management (SM). One could argue that quality practices are a subset of production and operations management and that QMP are strategic programs, which are instigated at the strategic level and require the prior commitment and approval of top management before implementation. But still the overwhelming research on QMPs is specifically focused on the philosophy of QMPs (see, for example, Foster and Jonker, 2003, 2007; Schroeder et al., 2008; Shih and Gurnani, 1997; Sousa and Voss, 2001, 2002; Williams et al., 2006; among others); the dynamics of implementation (such as, Beyer et al., 1997; Moore and Brown, 2006; Rahman, 2004; Spencer, 1994, and Zu, 2009, among others); the relationship between QMPs and operational excellence (such as, Flynn et al., 1995; and Samson and Terziovski, 1999; among others); contextual effects (such as, Benson et al., 1991), and replication studies (such as, Rungtusanatham et al., 1998). The stock of knowledge on these QMPs is broad and deep and this list is not exhaustive and presents only a few frequently cited representative examples. The crux of the matter is that this trend of an isolated approach to QMPs research (from other disciplines such as OM and SM) is dangerous for the survival of QMPs. An inclusive approach could help in bringing novel insights and may offer solutions to the problems faced by industry regarding failures in QMPs’ implementation. In this spirit we have approached this neglected area. We propose that QMPs problems need to be juxtaposed with other management areas such as SM and OM. Although such juxtaposition is itself an extensive topic of research; our approach in this research is to juxtapose OM and SM literature with QMPs’ failure problems and explore how the former provides some novel insights for the latter. This juxtaposition has resulted in the identification of aspects that need to be considered to promote the effective institutionalisation of QMPs. These aspects include the integration of QMPs with strategy and operations, interactive design of QMPs, development of routines and strong common culture, and intent of QMPs’ implementation.

This paper should provide practitioners and academics with a better understanding of the reasons for QMPs’ failure and the effective institutionalization of QMPs in organisational settings. This paper also provides an awareness of managerial actions and beliefs about QMPs’ implementation that are actually counter-productive. The remainder of the paper is structured as follows: The next section describes the role of strategy in implementing a QMP. To do this we present two opposing viewpoints regarding the QMPs’ integration with organisational strategy. This is further augmented with a discussion on context (in)dependency of QMPs; two schools of thoughts have been discussed. In the section following that, the institutionalization of QMPs is discussed from the perspective of theories in SM and OM literature. This in turn provides useful insights explaining QMPs failures. The institutionalisation of QMPs is discussed in terms of the design of QMPs, the role of routines and structures, the development of a unified culture, and the role of managerial intent in QMPs implementation. Finally conclusions are presented.

2. Integration of QMPs with strategy and operations

QMPs are primarily strategic programs rather than simple tools and techniques serving other general goals. Nevertheless, overwhelming literature on QMPs describes them as “tactical objectives” and “tools and techniques” type programs. For instance, there is abundant literature that describes QM as dealing predominantly with customers aspects as if this is the sole focus of QMPs. Similarly there is a plethora of literature that describes TQM as a techno-centric approach. In particular the use of advanced manufacturing systems, statistical process control, zero defect mentality, process management, internal audit, seven QC tools, design quality management, and JIT principles are frequently reported in the literature in relation to QMPs. These aspects are also referred to as “hard aspects” or “core practices” (see, for example, Rahman, 2004 and Zu, 2009) (see infrastructure practices) and are vital per se. QMPs’ implementation may be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if these hard aspects are not considered. However “customer satisfaction” and the “hard aspects of QMPs” are a means to an end and not the end in itself. The reason for such a techno-centric approach might be one as noted by Ackoff (1999) that “TQM has its origin in statistical quality control, which was a very effective way of reducing defects in products and services. Over time, additional procedures were added that contributed to the improvement of quality control, for example, quality circles and consensus decision-making. These developments were based primarily on experience; little theory was involved. As a result, the various components of TQM do not hang together as a cohesive whole” (pp. 265-6). In any case, any connotation of QMPs as merely tools and techniques and techno-centric approaches is in contradiction with the inherent strategic nature of QMPs. Quality management (or TQM) is not a sub-methodology to guide the management of strategic processes; it is a meta-management to steer the whole enterprise (Foley, 2005). This is further elaborated in the following sections that emphasize the need for the integration of QMPs with organisational strategy. Two different schools of thoughts are presented.

Strategy is the most important pre-requisite for any business since it steers different organisational functions in a coherent direction. A business strategy is about creating fit among a company’s activities. If there is no fit among activities, there is little sustainability (Porter, 1996). Williams et al. (1995) mentioned that manufacturing has an important role to play in business performance and this role could be enhanced through proper integration with other functional areas. It is proposed that this integration should stem from a common theme or strategic posture at a higher level of aggregation, i.e. at the organisational level. This strategic posture is often referred to as “business strategy” and calls for the need for a complete alignment between strategy and operational activities – a concept termed as “strategic fit” in SM and OM literature – see, for example, Joshi et al. (2003) and Kathuria et al. (2007; 1999). A business strategy thus needs to embody the QMPs to provide latter sustenance. If the QMPs are not coherently fitted into a strategy they would remain as stand-alone and isolated programs which at their best could be termed as “quality tools and techniques” rather than an integrated QMP. This point is also supported by Kaynak (2003) and Sila and Ebrahimpour (2005) who suggested that QM practices should be implemented as an integrated system rather than as a subset of QM practices.

An important contribution regarding “strategy” and “strategic fit as competitive weapon” comes from Porter (1996). Porter argued for the need of a fit between strategy and all other functions of the organisation. Competitive advantage grows out of the entire system of activities. Strategic fit among many activities is fundamentally not only for competitive advantage but also for sustaining that advantage. Porter further argued that it is harder for a rival to match an array of interlocked activities than it is to imitate a particular sales-force approach, match a process technology, or replicate a set of product features. Japanese manufacturers, for instance, enjoyed their operational effectiveness based (see strategy and strategic-fit based) dominance for a long time until it was emulated by western manufacturers and the gap in operational effectiveness narrowed. This was because their competitors were able to imitate the practices that were considered the cornerstone of Japanese manufacturing – such as JIT, lean, automation, and autonomation. The QMPs thus embedded in an organisational strategy not only endow the sustenance to the programs but also make it harder for a rival to imitate, thus providing long lasting competitive advantage. Porter attributed the inimitability to the interlocking and complementarities of activities, however Benner and Veloso (2008) argued that tightened fit between processes resulting from greater fit between activities is increasingly firm specific and thus difficult to imitate.

In contrast to Porter, Hayes and Upton (1998) advocated the need for an operations-based strategy (a strategy that relies on the superior performance resulting from QMPs). They stressed the need for operations-based competencies and building capabilities, which are sustainable and long lasting as compared to the advantages accrued from technology, product features, emerging markets, or any other advantage that is easily imitated by competitors. They further argued that superior operations effectiveness not only serves to buttress a company’s existing competitive position, but, when based on capabilities that are embedded in the company’s people and operating processes, is inherently difficult to imitate. For this reason an operations-based strategy can provide the basis for a sustainable competitive advantage. In the Japanese management systems, for instance, the tools and techniques which have been a characteristic of Japanese companies, although quite simple, required such radical changes in workers’ training and management practices that it took other auto-manufacturers more than a decade to implement them successfully and bring their defect rates down to levels approaching those of their Japanese competitors. In the perspective of QMPs, Hayes and Upton’s (1998) stance crystallizes the need for operations-based and operations-embedded QMPs that define organisational strategy and steer it towards sustainable competitive advantage.

Whether this is a QMP to support a strategy (Porter’s stance) or a strategy based on the specific QMP (Hayes and Upton’s stance), it must be linked effectively to the strategy to ensure that it does not remain as an isolated practice but rather an integrated and interwoven practice. This point has also been echoed by Oakland and Tanner (2007) who argued that in order to better manage the change programs, the need for the change must be aligned to the operational issues. They argued that “the external event that triggers the change forms part of the strategic context of the change… and the need must be translated into an operational context so people in the organisation understand how they will be affected and what must be done to address the challenge … If the link is broken between the strategic and operational issues, there is a risk of misdirected efforts leading to no or limited bottom-line benefits or the change will never get off the starting blocks” (Oakland and Tanner, 2007, p. 582).

The need to tie a QMP with an organisational strategy is also supported by “contingency theory”. The research on the context (in)dependency of QMPs could be categorised into two schools of thoughts namely “QMPs as a universal set of practices” and “QMPs as contingency based practices”. At its heart, the universal approach to QMPs advocates that quality practices are universally applicable to every context. This approach was made popular by the prominence of Japanese management systems, best practice benchmarking, and quality awards. It is based on the assumption that adoption of best (world class) practices leads to superior performance and capabilities (Voss, 1995). This paradigm focuses on the continuous development of best practice in all areas of a company and is supported by research (see for example, Harry and Schroeder, 2000; Samson and Terziovski, 1999) showing the link between best practice and improved performance.

The second school of thought advocates QMPs as “contingency based” approaches. The proponents of this approach are Dean and Snell (1996), Ketokivi and Schroeder (2004), Sousa and Voss (2001), and Rungtusanatham et al. (1998) among others. This approach is based on matching the internal and external consistencies. Internal consistency refers to the coherence between different elements of a manufacturing strategy; external consistency refers to the match between this set and the wider organisational context (e.g. manufacturing strategy) (Sousa and Voss, 2001). According to this school of thought if market conditions change then so do the required processes. Failure to match with external business, product, and customer factors can lead to a mismatch with the market which could be detrimental to a firm’s profits (Dean and Snell, 1996; Ketokivi and Schroeder, 2004). The contingency approach is also supported by Garvin (1986) who noted that attempts made by US firms to mimic Japanese quality practices without first adapting them to local conditions were unlikely to be completely successful, even though practices in both countries were originally derived from the same source.

The foregoing discussion infers that:

  • QMPs need to be employed as strategic performance improvement initiatives rather than performance enhancing tools and techniques; and
  • QMPs need to be effectively integrated with organisational strategy and operations.

The resulting fit produces interlocking between activities and makes operations increasingly firm-specific and difficult to imitate. This in turn paves the way for sustainable competitive advantage. Organisations that fail to link QMPs with their strategic priorities are left with a situation in which they do the wrong things right, in other words, being efficient at the cost of effectiveness (Hermel, 1997).

3. Institutionalisation of QMPs

Harnessing sustained benefits from QMPs is contingent upon their institutionalisation in organisational settings (Beer, 2003; Harari, 1993; Shih and Gurnani, 1997). Institutionalisation is the process whereby a QMP becomes an integral and sustainable part of an organisation. Selznick (1953) as cited in Zbaracki (1998) mentioned that institutionalisation is to infuse with value beyond the technical requirements of the task at hand. A QMP is institutionalised when it is formally and philosophically embedded into the structure and functioning of an organisation. The need for institutionalisation can be explained using an entropy analogy (Asif et al., 2009) – essentially it means that things left to themselves gradually move towards chaos and disorder unless replenished with effort. It is the same with QMPs. Left to themselves the systems move towards deterioration and degradation with the passage of time. The underlying philosophy, at least partly, is that people resist change to their status quo and want to return to their old comfort zone. This observation is heavily supported in the organisational psychology literature (see, Dent, 1999; Kotter, 1995; and O’Toole, 1995).

Institutionalisation of QMPs is a big problem in modern management practices. Although models for QMPs do explain the journey towards QMPs’ implementation and assessment, they ignore their institutionalisation. This topic is especially relevant and timely when viewed from the perspective of the plethora of literature (mentioned earlier) describing the failures in implementation of these programs. The following sub-sections, based on the useful insights obtained from SM and OM literature, highlight the reasons for QMPs’ failures. This in turn paves the way for overcoming such problems and promoting institutionalisation of QMPs within an organisational setting.

3.1 Interactive design of QMPs

Institutionalisation of QMPs is complete when they are both accepted and taken-for-granted as part of the way people feel and think, and the way they usually do things (Beyer et al., 1997). Institutionalisation of QMPs is important because otherwise they would remain as isolated quality practices and thus not harnessed completely.

Useful insights about institutionalisation come from research in “technology appropriation” (DeSanctis and Poole, 1994; Holweg and Pil, 2008). DeSanctis and Poole (1994), for instance, called for the need for better incorporation of advanced technologies into work practices. They proposed adaptive structuration theory (AST) to provide a dynamic picture of the process by which people incorporate advanced technologies into their processes. AST describes the interplay between advanced information technologies, social structures, and human interactions. It further elaborates that there are structures in technology on the one hand, and structures in action on the other hand. The two are continually intertwined. There is a recursive relationship between technology and action with each iteratively shaping the other.

The AST provides useful insights for the enhanced institutionalisation of QMPs by key users. It suggests that it is not only users who are supposed to adopt and adapt to technology or a management system but also QMPs should be designed keeping in mind the requirements of key users and their recommendations and that feedback be incorporated into QMPs to promote greater buy-in by key users. Such an organisation specific design has also been mentioned in the literature as “tailor-made design”; our point of emphasis is the “bilateral adjustments”. The concept of institutionalisation is in sharp contrast to the “compliance” which refers to individual behaviour that conforms to perceived pressures. A person may comply in response to external influences (Elenkov, 1997) without mental acceptance. The institutionalisation on the other hand, promotes greater buy-in of a QMP and its incorporation into employees’ routines and their own constructions of reality.

The need for a user oriented QMP also derives from total quality (TQ) matrix (Fisscher and Weerd-Nederhof, 2001; Irianto, 2005) and socio-technical system (STS) theory (Pasmore, 1988). The TQ matrix (Figure 1) and STS theory suggest that an organisation has two sub-systems (technical and social). The technical sub-system includes tools and techniques such as statistical process control, seven QC tools, and control and monitoring techniques, among others. On the other hand, the social sub-system consists of people and teams who use the tools and techniques (technical sub-system) to produce the goods or services. How well the social and technical sub-systems are designed with respect to one another and with respect to the demands of the external environment would determine the organisational effectiveness (Pasmore, 1988; Zu, 2009). Thus a QMP designed according to the requirements of end users (social sub-system) is expected to result in greater performance improvement.

3.2 Routines development

Resource-based view (RBV) is a powerful framework for understanding how competitive advantage is achieved through intra-firm resources and capabilities (Corbett and Claridge, 2002). According to this view the basis for the competitive advantage of a firm lies in the resources at its disposal. These resources give rise to sustained competitive advantage when they are heterogeneous, rare, imperfectly imitable, and non-substitutable (Barney, 1991; Smith and Reece, 1999; Wernerfelt, 1984). A resource is anything such as a strength or weakness that is tied semi-permanently to an organisation. Resources include in-house technology, skilled employees, machinery, trade contacts, operating procedures, capital, customer loyalty, production experience etc. Organisations need to develop these resources to gain competitive advantage. A detailed discussion of these resources is beyond the scope of this paper; however an important type of resource that has gained significant attention in current research is “routines” (see for example, Barney, 1991; Grant, 1996; Peng et al., 2008; Smith and Reece, 1999; Wernerfelt, 1984). Routines are defined as the way things are done or patterns of activities (Grant, 1996; Teece et al., 1997). Whereas resources refer to tangible and intangible firm assets that could be put into productive use (Amit and Schoemaker, 1993); routines are organisational processes that utilize clusters of resources to achieve desired outcomes (Teece et al., 1997).

Routines include both standard operating procedures and patterns of behaviour not explicitly guided by written values and policies (Ketokivi and Schroeder, 2004). When examined from the perspective of a resource-based view, routines do not stand alone as operational activity(ies) executed over a period of time; but rather an important organisational source of competitive advantage. Compared to resources, routines are embedded in the dynamic interaction of multiple knowledge sources and are more firm specific and less transferable thus leading to a sustained competitive advantage (Peng et al., 2008). Routines are a significant repository of knowledge; networks of routines form a memory in which organisational knowledge is embedded (Argote and Ingram, 2000; Grant, 1996). Routines are also a means to integrate specialist knowledge into organisational processes and are more powerful (than directions) in knowledge integration (Grant, 1996).

Routines promote institutionalisation of a QMP through developing firm, stable, and consistent patterns for execution of activities which ultimately become “default operating procedures” and prevent a QMP from getting rolled back. The use of routines as a means to institutionalise a QMP is in line with the findings of Beyer et al. (1997) who noted that institutionalising a planned change requires establishing new structures and routines; of Clark (1996) who found that in most instances competitive advantage in operations is achieved through better execution of similar routines; and of Shah and Ward (2003) who found that organisations develop sets of routines (manufacturing practices) over a period of time and these practices change infrequently.

However these stable and firm patterns (routines) could also retard exploration. Benner and Tushman (2003) suggested that organisations could overcome this paradox through the development of tightly coupled sub-units that are loosely coupled with each other. The tightly coupled sub-units promote exploitation through tight culture and processes, whereas loosely coupled sub-units facilitate innovation and exploration through loose culture and processes. This gives rise to an ambidextrous organisational structure that promotes exploitation and exploration simultaneously. For a detailed description of such a dual organisational structure see, Benner and Tushman (2003), O’Reilly III and Tushman (2004), and Tushman and O’Reilly III (1996).

3.3 Strong common culture

The role of the culture is crucial for the institutionalisation of a QMP (Tata and Prasad, 1998). This is because at their core QMPs, for instance QM, consist of certain underpinning values such as customer satisfaction, leadership commitment, full participation of employees, education and training, facts based decision making, continuous improvement, etc. Successful implementation requires that these values of QMPs be aligned with the values of the organisation (Tata and Prasad, 1998). However it is not easy as the values are grounded in the organisational culture (Lagrosen, 2003). The cultural element that plays a vital role in institutionalisation could be viewed in terms of a) the formation of different sub-cultures within an organisational culture, and b) the overall organisational culture that fosters a learning process. There is a relationship between a QMP’s scope and culture, and the differences in scope are likely to lead to different sub-cultures in the organisation. These different sub-cultures may hinder the development of a strong common culture, which emphasizes the values of co-operation and involvement (Wilkinson and Dale, 2002; Zeng et al., 2007). The QMP’s implementation thus requires a strong common culture that fosters the learning process and steers various functions in a coherent direction. Management needs to determine a match between organisational culture and espoused QMP values and strategy; this way they can also determine the likelihood of TQM success as well as any costs of implementation (Tata and Prasad, 1998). During the course of implementation managements’ behaviour and emergent culture must become consistent over time with the QMP philosophy or employees will become cynical. Such cynicism in turn undermines commitment and results in the collapse of QMPs (Beer, 2003).

3.4 Intent of QMPs implementation

Finally, an important factor is the “intent” or “motivation” for implementation of a QMP. Theoretically the QMPs are implemented for reasons associated with performance improvement. However this may not always be the case. Many organisations implement QMPs for reasons other than performance improvement. Such organisations may implement QMPs due to pressure from customers or because a competitor is doing so or simply because this is the latest management practice. Choi and Wasti (1995) cited in Choi and Eboch (1998) pointed out that many firms had to implement TQM practices because their commercial and business customers explicitly demanded them to do so. This view is in line with the supply chain management literature that suggests that business customers are the drivers of dissemination of quality along the supply chain (Ellram, 1991). In such cases the immediate objective for managers is to please their business customers by complying with their requirements.

This point could also be explained in terms of institutional theory. According to this theory organisations are dependent on external constituencies (e.g. customers) for resources. In order to ensure the continued flow of the needed resources (e.g. orders), organisations conform to the wishes of external constituencies (e.g. by implementing QMPs). This type of conformance leads to increased goodwill and legitimacy with external constituencies and so ensures the organisation’s long term survival (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). However, an organisation’s internal performance goal (e.g. meeting productivity targets) and external demands for conformance (e.g. implementing quality practices) may initially conflict; for instance, generating statistical process control data may actually slow down the production line (Choi and Eboch, 1998). Notwithstanding the match between external demands and internal needs, managers give in to these pressures and call for compliance and incorporate QMPs (legitimate elements) into their structures. The adoption of QMPs in response to external pressures without internal needs assessment is likely to result in poor understanding of QMPs, thus resulting in low commitment, poor performance, and early abandonment (Beer, 2003). However, firms may gain performance benefits, albeit haphazardly, when their implementation fortuitously matches the technical needs of the plant. In other words, because such changes were not driven by the internal needs justified by the technical reasoning but by external needs justified by the institutional reasoning, their impact on plant performance will occur on a “hit-or-miss” basis (Choi and Eboch, 1998).

The foregoing discussion to promote institutionalisation of QMPs highlights the important role of leadership in creating a strategic fit, need of user-oriented design, cultural transformation, and development of QMPs routines. This is explained through Figure 1, which shows the user-oriented design of QMPs at the core. The QMPs need to have a user-oriented design with the philosophy of joint optimization of social and technical sub-systems rather than optimization of one at the expanse of sub-optimization of other. Such a joint optimization is likely to promote greater buy-in by employees. The integration of QMPs with strategy and operations facilitates the strategic fit that is nurtured by resources (human and financial) and capacity building, strong supporting culture, and oversight by leadership. During execution of QMPs, structures and routines emerge (and are developed) which further embed the QMPs in the organisational setting. It therefore follows that “the institutionalisation of QMPs is actuated by the leadership driving policy and strategy that is delivered through the user-oriented design of QMPs, coherent strategic fit, allocation of human and financial resources, supportive culture, development of QMPs routines, and an explicit intent to adopt QMPs for performance improvement reasons” (Figure 2).

4. Conclusion

Failures with the implementation of QMPs are a matter of serious concern for practitioners and researchers. Despite their proven usefulness, criticism on QMPs is widespread and the extant literature reports that QMPs are becoming an organisational liability. However, this paper argues that QMPs, when effectively aligned with organisational strategy and institutionalised in an organisational setting, could be a source of competitive advantage. This paper started with a description of the literature reporting the failures of QMPs’ implementation and the call for deliberation on this aspect. The reasons for QMPs failures were explained from the perspective of SM and OM literature with a particular focus on the “strategic fit”, “operations based strategy”, “contingency approach versus universal best practices”, “adaptive structuration theory”, “socio-technical systems theory”, “resource (routines)-based view”, and “institutional theory”. Out of box perspectives from non-QM literature offered explanations for QMPs’ failures and provided guidance to address this problem.

Based on the concepts of strategic fit, operations-based competencies, universal best practices, and contingency theory the need for integration among strategy, QMPs, and operational activities was argued. Such an integration is meant to ensure that QMPs are embedded in the organisational strategy and do not remain as stand-alone practices. The QMPs employed solely as tools and techniques, independent of context and not coherently fitted with organisational strategy, might lead to doing the wrong things right. However, when integrated with organisational strategy and operational activities, QMPs become a source of competitive advantage that is long lasting and also inimitable by competitors. Two opposing viewpoints (strategy-driven QMPs versus QMPs-based strategy) were presented. However, both converged to the need of integration of such programs with organisational strategy. Such integration increased the “fit” and “complementarities” among organisational functions, thus leading to sustained competitive edge.

Regarding effective institutionalisation of QMPs, useful insights were obtained from adaptive structuration theory, socio-technical systems theory, resource (routines)-based theory, and institutional theory. These theories suggested, firstly, the need for a user-oriented QMP design to promote its institutionalisation in an organisational setting. This in turn requires joint optimization of the organisational technical (QMP) and social (employees) sub-systems rather than optimization of one at the expense of sub-optimization of the other. A user-oriented design of QMPs is likely to promote greater buy-in by employees, thus facilitating them to incorporate QMPs into their routines. Secondly, the QMPs are also institutionalised through the development of QMP routines which include operating procedures and behavioural patterns. Routines act as memory of knowledge and embed a QMP through development of consistent action patterns that gradually develop into the default way of operations execution. Organisational routines have emerged as the rich source of knowledge and critical building blocks in difficult-to-imitate capabilities thus providing an inimitable source of competitive advantage. When executed over time they develop into default ways of execution of activities; thus promoting their firm institutionalisation. Finally, the intent of QMPs implementation also determines the success of their implementation. There is now ample evidence that firms may adopt QMPs in the hope of rapid painless change as well as to prove legitimacy in the eyes of investors, customers, the business community and other influential parties. Such an implementation that is carried out to comply with external pressures and without internal needs assessment is unlikely to yield sustainable value. Such firms could also gain advantages when their QMPs fortuitously match with their existing technical capabilities. However, sustenance to such programs is achieved only when they are aligned with the organisational strategy and are nurtured by allocation of human and non-human resources, and dynamic oversight of the committed management (Figure 1). Institutionalisation of QMPs is further augmented in the presence of a strong fostering culture common to whole organisations rather than many different and sometimes even opposing sub-cultures. Formation of sub-cultures produces inconsistencies between the espoused new QMP direction and values and existing organisational reality.

The key contribution of this paper is that it has taken a step to enhance current understanding of reasons of QMPs’ failures and how to promote their effective institutionalisation. The failure of QMPs is a serious concern that has shaken the faith of QMP practitioners. As Harari (1993) stated, “managers are rethinking their love affair with TQM” (p. 33). This has caused QMPs to have gained a reputation as quickly passing fads and fashions that would be replaced by the next one in the queue. Since useful literature on the investigation of QMPs’ failures does exist (such as Bardoel and Sohal, 1999; Harari, 1993; Hermel, 1997; Shih and Gurnani, 1997; among others); we strongly urge that this research and existing research be considered mutually inclusively.

ImageFigure 1Total quality matrix
Figure 1Total quality matrix

ImageFigure 2Institutionalisation of quality management programs
Figure 2Institutionalisation of quality management programs

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Further Reading
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Corresponding author

Muhammad Asif can be contacted at: m.asif@utwente.nl

 

 

 

 

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