The History of Quality Management, and Its Future, in the United States

The History of Quality Management, and Its Future, in the United States

What does the future hold? There isn’t a person out there who wouldn’t want a more definite answer to this question in one form or another. For our purposes, let’s tweak the framework of that query a bit – making it more specific: What does the future hold for Quality Management?

Before we can adequately look at what the future may hold for Quality Management, it would be prudent to review how we got to where we are. So, let’s begin with a brief history lesson.

Quality Management became a primary concern in the U.S. during World War II, as manufacturers converted their assembly lines to produce necessary materials for the war effort. Ammunition needed to fire correctly, and tank builds required precision, after all, U.S. lives depended on it. Statistical sampling and military-specification standards became the base around which quality management systems were created during the war.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the idea of Total Quality Management (TQM) would be introduced as a way for U.S. manufactures to keep up with the emerging production lines in Japan. Already, utilized by the Japanese after WWII, TQM began to change the role quality played in most U.S. organizations – leading with a greater acceptance of Quality Management as a company-wide approach and empowering quality teams and quality managers. TQM helped bring a quality mindset to the top of many organizations.

However, TQM had a fatal flaw. At its core, TQM directed the quality professional to define and enforce Quality Management within their organization – but relayed nothing on how to improve it. By the 1990s, TQM was falling out of favor with many manufactures and being referred to as nothing more than a fad. This gap gave rise to placing greater importance on ISO Certification based Quality Management Systems and Lean Manufacturing.

Many companies hoped TQM would bring what an ISO Certified Quality Management System helped lay the groundwork for - quality becoming the entire organization's lifeblood, not just important to the quality team members. Additionally, a core component of ISO Certified Quality Management Systems is the focus on continual improvement. Here quality managers began shifting their methodology away from defining and enforcing to helping employees dig deeper, finding root causes, developing solutions, implementing them, and educating the teams for whom it was relevant.

Today, successful quality teams understand employee and leadership buy-in's critical nature and the importance of continual improvement, particularly as it pertains to a company’s processes. Everyone must be on the same page and believe in the need for improvement and change to consistently succeed.

Looking ahead, Quality Management can be summed up with three words, “Doing the work.” Whether it’s learning a Quality Management System’s requirements, comprehending processes and implementation, identifying continual improvement opportunities or root causes, or helping customers, everyone in the organization must take ownership. An active environment built on collaboration, communication, and execution determine plans to realize the benefits of quality and continual improvement. Truly successful quality-focused organizations stay proactive. 

As this new wave of “active” quality management continues to yield more significant results, continued, united improvement efforts across the organization, at all levels, will be led by empowered quality teams. Leadership will start to demand that their quality members take this approach if they are not already; Those who prefer a TQM approach, or cannot get on board, may find themselves left behind.


To learn more about the Quality Management Systems and the certifications we offer, please visit our Audit section.


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