In considering various management approaches internationally for the delivery of computer-based learning, there is an interest in total quality management (TQM). The majority of the research on TQM focuses on its application to for-profit businesses; however, TQM also has been used in universities more broadly, especially in student services areas. Generally, current research on TQM in higher education has focused on methods, barriers to implementation, learning-outcome assessment, human factors, and case studies.
The history of TQM is traced by Sims and Sims (1995) in the general attempt to build quality products in business that became the focus of interest at the beginning of this century. In Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Taylor applied his method of achieving quality through inspecting the product at the end of the assembly line and the checking on the efficiency of the process. In 1922, G. S. Radford published The Control of Quality in Manufacturing, which reinforced the notion of inspecting products at the end of the process. In 1931, W. A. Shewhart published Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product, which converted statistical methods to manufacturing to standardize performance. Eventually, random sampling eliminated the need to test every manufactured product, and the notion of quality through inspection became streamlined.
Hoffman and Summers (1995) trace the history of TQM theory to postwar Japan when American general Douglas MacArthur’s occupation forces created a unit called the Japanese Union of Science and Engineering (JUSE) to put their efforts into rebuilding the country. Engineers from Bell Laboratories working on General MacArthur’s staff had previously used statistical methods for quality control in building weapons during the war with a “plan-do-check-act” system and thought that it could be applied to the rebuilding of Japan. The JUSE offered training to Japanese engineers in these methods, and a Columbia University professor, W. Edwards Deming, became one of their leading trainers. Deming is known as the father of TQM and for his statistical control process. To TQM theory he contributed the seven deadly diseases, the 14 points of quality principles, and popularized the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle (Deming, 1984, 1990). Joseph Juran, teaching TQM at the management level, began offering seminars for JUSE in 1954. Juran defined quality as “fitness for use” and had a project-based notion of quality (Juran, 1992; Juran & Godfrey, 1995). Between 1950 and 1970, 14,000 Japanese engineers were trained in TQM (Hoffman & Summers, 1995). Along with Deming and Juran, Philip Crosby (1978, 1995) is the third leading figure in the TQM movement. Crosby published Quality is Free in 1978, which popularized the notion of “zero defects” and “doing it right the first time”.
Historical accounts of the rise of TQM include generalizations about TQM principles. Sims and Sims (1995) contrast Taylorism to TQM by describing the focus on systems and the process of creating products, not just the end product. The key themes of TQM are customer focus, commitment to process improvement, total involvement, and system thinking. Hoffman and Summers (1995) describe TQM as asserting that 85% of total error is system error; the rest is individual performance error. Managers should look for unnecessary complexity that does not add value to the operation.
In their overview of TQM, Lozier and Teeter (1993) look at the notion of quality in higher education and see that it has meant an abundance of resources such as faculty and libraries, but has evolved to focus on the degree of stakeholder satisfaction. In line with this shift to stakeholder satisfaction, quality is defined by Juran (1992) as fitness for use, by Crosby as conforming to requirements, and by Deming as surpassing customer needs and expectations. Lozier and Teeter point out that Deming’s notion of meeting customer needs and expectations fits well with the stakeholder-satisfaction notion. Furthermore, Deming also promotes the need for organizational constancy of purpose that applies well to education.