Total Quality Management (TQM) in the Construction Industry

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Total quality management (TQM) is a quality management methodology that is founded on the philosophy that all members of the organization are responsible for promoting excellence in all aspects of the firms operations. Dale, Wiele, and Iwaarden (2013) have defined TQM as an integrated effort of improving quality at all levels of the organization. Mohideen and Vijayavel (2014) also defined TQM as a “management approach that centres on quality based on involvement of all organizational members and targeting long-term success by ensuring customer satisfaction, and benefits to all members of the organization and society.” TQM focuses on identifying possible cause of defects and rectifying them at the source, as opposed to inspecting products and services after they are made.

TQM gives a broader meaning to the concept of quality. Prior to the establishment of TQM in the 1960, quality management was viewed as a narrow function that can be assigned to specific department (Dale, Wiele, & Iwaarden, 2013). Quality management was associated with simplistic tasks such as inspections and audits. In the 1970s and 1980s the understanding of quality management underwent a drastic change. Quality management programs started to incorporate broader and proactive initiatives such as employee training, supplier development and vetting, and building quality into processes. According to Mohideen and Vijayavel (2014), TQM is founded on the following principles: customer focus, leadership, employee involvement, process approach to activities and resources, system approach to management, fact based decision-making, continuous improvement, and strategic supplier partnerships.

The principle of customer focus recognizes that all products have little value of they do not satisfy the needs and wants of the customer (Dale, Wiele, & Iwaarden, 2013). This principle, therefore, makes quality management a customer driven process. The principle of leadership emphasizes the need to establish unity of purpose and sense of direction in the management of quality. It suggests that quality management should begin at the apex of the organization (Burlikowska, 2015). Senior managers should not only establish a vision and provide action plans, but should also create an environment that facilitates full involvement of all members in the realization of quality goals. The employee involvement principle is based on the rationale that employees are the essence of the organization; hence, their abilities should be used for the benefit of the organization (Mohideen & Vijayavel, 2014). The principle asserts that all employees should participate not only in the implementation of quality programs, but also in the design and development of these programs.

The process approach principle emphasizes the firms should manage activities and resources as a process in order to realize greater efficiency (Burlikowska, 2015). The system approach to management is based on the view that organizations are complex social systems whose outcomes are more than just the sum of the outputs of its components or units (Dale, Wiele, & Iwaarden, 2013). Consequently, the management of organization should take a holistic rather than a fragmented approach in order to realize significant improvement. The principle of continuous improvement recognizes that there is no limit to quality; hence, quality management should be a one-off initiative (Burlikowska, 2015). It should be an endless and incremental process that seeks to continually improve the level of excellence within the organization. The strategic supplier partnership principle is based on the observation that suppliers have a significant impact on organizational outcome. Consequently, organization cannot realize meaningful change in their outcomes without the active involvement of suppliers.

The TQM philosophy was developed in the manufacturing industry raising questions regarding its applicability in the building construction context. Several studies have explored the application of TQM in the construction industry. Haupt and Whiteman (2014) asserted that TQM’s ability to accommodate new methods, tools, and ideas make it applicable in an altered form to the construction field. The authors, however, noted that construction companies in the United States have been slow to embrace the TQM philosophy and many struggle with its implementation. In most companies, TQM principles are rarely applied beyond the management level and even few companies are able to apply to their suppliers and subcontractors.

Bakar, Ali, and Onyeizu (2011) examined the application of TQM by large construction companies in Oman. The study revealed that, generally, the construction companies were taking into account the principles of TQM. Seed and Hasan (2012) found that the implementation of TQM in the Yemen construction industry had positive effects on quality of project implementation, teamwork, client satisfaction, and the general performance of projects. Otaibi, Alharbi, and Almeleehan (2015) also found that there was a significant positive relationship between the implementation of TQM practices and the competitiveness of construction firms in Saudi Arabia. Sabek (2015) established that the implementation of TQM in the construction industry in the United Arab Emirates had a positive impact on project outcomes particular on project cost. Iruobe, Ojambati, Akinpade, and Iruobe (2012) also established that the implementation of TQM by Nigerian contractors was associated with success in project delivery.

In their study, Zhang & Russel (2005) noted that although companies in Singapore had established TQM programs, these programs were not fully implemented and their outcomes were not as expected due to the cost involved in implementation and little leadership commitment. Amaniampong, Salakpi, and Bonye (2014) found that there was no statistically significant difference between Ghanaian construction companies that had a TQM policy and those that did not in terms of customer and employee focus. Gurda, Nayaka, Murthy, and Kumar (2015) noted that Indian construction firms did not implement TQM successfully because of negative behaviour and attitude, lack of employee understanding and commitment, inadequate resources and expertise, and lack of training to drive improvement.

According to Shah, Ali, Mehmood, and Iqbal (2014), the implementation of TQM required broad changes to the cultures, procedures, processes, and priorities of the organization. This is often a big challenge for construction organization where traditional constructional technique and labour are dominant. Harrington, Voehl, and Wiggin (2012) also noted that the implementation of TQM in the construction industry is also hampered by diversified nature of inputs, geographical dispersion of projects, complex contractual relationships, subtle forms of waste, and transient nature of projects. Hoonakker, Carayon, and Loushine (2010) also argue that the implementation of TQM principles in the construction industry is difficult due to lack of standardization. Another factor that makes the implementation of TQM in the building construction industry difficult is the transient nature of projects. Building projects take a span of few months after which the contractor moves on to another site and often acquire a different work team. This trait of building projects make it difficult for companies to promote learning.

Is TQM applicable in the construction industry? Whats your view?

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