When it comes to determining the fundamentals of running a business successfully, no school of thought offers a simpler and more direct answer than Quality Management. Get the quality right and all the rest will fall into place.

Quality Management’s promise is to provide products and services which are not only be better than your competitors’, but more reliably and predictably so. The result is more sales, fewer problems, less wasted time and materials, higher revenue, higher profit, and even happier employees. Sound too good to be true? Well, it almost is.

Quality management is difficult to do and the first problem arises when you ask the question, “what exactly do you mean by Quality Management?”. The volume of information available and the different terminology used makes it hard to know where to start and how to check your progress.

The key to coming to grips with this problem is to first divide Quality Management as a whole into two main areas. These are Total Quality Management or TQM, and Quality Assurance or QA.

While some argue that TQM incorporates QA this is not strictly true. QA was developed for quite different motives and sponsored by a different group of people, and it attempts to manage quality from a very different perspective to that of TQM. However, QA and TQM are complementary and contain few aspects which overlap or conflict. The two form a continuum of management methods in which QA covers the more rigid or formal end, and TQM the more flexible and dynamic.

QA involves identifying all the processes in the organisation which directly affect quality and standardising them. This means making sure that the process achieves the desired result (for example, making sure your method of taking a customer’s order minimises the likelihood that they will get the wrong thing), and making sure that everyone in the organisation carries out the process in the same way.

TQM, on the other hand, involves continually reevaluating these same processes and changing them so that they work better for the customer and more efficiently for the company (for example, devising and implementing ideas for taking orders both more accurately and more quickly). In short, QA stabilises and controls processes while TQM improves them.

Distinguishing clearly between QA and TQM in this way makes it a lot easier to make sense of the many things that are written about them. It also helps to know the other names used for these two Quality Management approaches. QA is often referred to simply as ‘The Quality System’, and it provides the underlying ethos for the ISO 9000 Standard (published by the International Organisation for Standards), the basis for the ‘Code of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice)’ administered by the Health Department to assure the quality of medicines and other health care products, and a number of other specialised industry codes used around the world.

TQM, on other hand, is also known by the name Total Quality Control (TQC) and its fundamental ideas are the same as those incorporated in Kaizen management practice, as well as such specialised approaches as Total Quality Service (TQS) and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). TQM also encompasses such well known techniques as Quality Circles, Just-In-Time inventory management, and Statistical Process Control.

Once you know what QA and TQM are you pretty much have the field covered. All you need then is to apply all the concepts, tools and techniques they offer.