Beginning in the late 1970s, continuing through the 1980s, and gaining greater momentum in the early 1990s, total quality management (TQM) has had a significant impact on American industries. TQM began getting attention by non-profit organizations (e.g., city governments, hospitals, and universities) in the mid 1980s.
One of the first indicators of the importance of TQM occurred in the 1950s when W. Edwards Deming, a statistician, tried to convince the leaders of American businesses they should commence using the principles of quality improvement. Not finding a receptive audience here in the United States, Deming went to Japan and began a revolution from shoddy products and services to those designed for zero defects.
Quality is a difficult term to define. It could be described as the “rail on which the train runs.” Like some other things, one will know when one sees it. My dictionary defines quality as “any of the features which make something what it is.” Customer/user satisfaction is as good a definition of quality as there is.
Why is there a cry for improved quality? Customers/users believe they are short changed when they have paid for inferior products and services. Price tags continue to get larger while products and services fall short of expectations.
Why TQM for libraries?
No matter how a library’s management fabric is cut, it becomes abundantly clear that nearly every aspect of a library can still be improved. The installation of TQM in libraries should not imply that the staff has not been engaged in a continuous improvement process. Quite the contrary. TQM provides a systematic, formalized process for focusing on improvements. It is a process that manages by facts, uses tools for analyzing and measuring work, and evaluates progress on a regular basis.
Libraries are essentially service organizations. They have internal and external users. Internally, the reference staff, for example, depends on the work of the technical services staff. Externally, there are users who expect quality services from the library. Based on TQM’s heavy emphasis on user satisfaction, it is an excellent tool for the management of libraries. Who can argue with a library’s intent to offer improved services for the user through a methodical, systematic approach?
A requisite ingredient for a successful TQM program in the library is commitment from the director. Without this commitment, TQM is nothing more than another buzzword. Before accepting this responsibility, the director should know, among other things, how much TQM is going to cost the library and how much time will be required for training the staff. For it to work, managers throughout the library must also share the director’s commitment to and interest in TQM. They must be convinced that TQM is the correct management program for their library and, subsequently, they must devote the necessary time and resources to make it successful. In addition to “talking the talk,” library managers should practice the TQM principles in their daily work lives.
Strategic planning and TQM
Before implementing TQM, the library should already have a strategic plan in place. Can a library begin TQM and concurrently formulate a long-range, strategic plan? Yes, but it will be difficult in terms of reallocating staff time and sequencing the work. A strategic plan lends credibility to the quality improvement process. Mission statements provide the library staff with long-term projections and philosophical directions. Goals and objectives, respectively, specify the broad and more precise intentions of the library. Strategies, in turn, offer the library staff possible courses of actions for realizing the goals and objectives. The attributes of a well-designed plan are critical to the success of TQM. “A ship without a rudder” is the best way to describe a TQM program that does not have a supporting strategic plan.
TQM is a complex undertaking; it requires a thoughtful introduction, a through training program, and continual library-wide communication. Ideally, before implementing TQM, an orientation session should be held for the entire library staff. After the orientation, specialized training must be held for those participating in TQM. This training does not have to be offered to the entire library staff during the early stages of TQM, but it is crucial to provide this training for those who are going to serve on TQM teams.
Staff serving as team leaders should undergo training that prepares them to manage the project team: calling and conducting meetings; assigning administrative details; orchestrating team activities; creating and maintaining channels that enable team members to do their work; and communicating the work of the team with the rest of the library. The library director and the assistant directors should take the team leader training as early as possible.
Assisting the team leader on a respective project will be a facilitator whose responsibilities include observing the team’s progress, evaluating how the team functions, and using these findings to help the team improve its processes. The facilitator’s role is to help move along the team’s work—coaching team members in needed skills and tools—but not to participate directly in the team’s activities. (Peter R. Scholtes, The Team Handbook: How to Use Teams to Improve Quality (Madison, Wisconsin: Joiner Associates, 1988), 3-13)
Team leader and facilitator training can take between three and five working days to complete. If the library’s parent organization has made a commitment to TQM, perhaps the training programs could be shared financially. Otherwise, the library should expect to pay for all of the training. The cost per person depends on the number being trained at one time and who does the training. The library may decide to do its own training after a few staff members have completed the training sessions.
Training zeroes in on the principles and tools of TQM; the process is given heavy emphasis. Participants engage in exercises that delineate problems, extract the root causes of problems, perform work simulations, conduct evaluations, and provide feedback on how to improve the various processes discussed. Taking several staff members away from their regular work for large blocks of training time may have a major impact on various staff areas. In lieu of asking the staff who are receiving the training to leave their work for three to five consecutive days, it may be better to have the training broken down into two or more sessions distributed over a period of a few weeks. Training is paramount and truncating the necessary time for it will result in serious long-term, negative repercussions.
Targeted areas: identification and selection
Normally, an entire library department/unit is not targeted as a candidate for TQM. For example, one should not focus on a project that studies how to improve the hiring of new employees, but on a smaller part or process such as the employment of entry-level clerks. Selecting the first areas for application of TQM may be very sensitive. If the director arbitrarily selects an area without much forethought, the staff in the respective department may come to a fast conclusion that it is not performing up to par and has been singled out as a problem area. Nothing could be more demoralizing to a department/unit than for the director to announce that the respective area has a process in dire need of TQM and, consequently, has been selected to be the very first entity to begin using TQM.
Several alternatives should be considered during the selection of areas; they include asking the entire library to suggest processes that could possibly benefit from TQM, or asking volunteers (involved in a respective process) to participate as the first project teams. Various staff can be involved in the selection of those processes that may benefit from TQM. It is important that the initial areas selected will result in “success stories.” They should reflect a model that other areas can replicate. Beginning the TQM program with some poorly selected areas could mean its early demise. Common errors in selecting projects include selecting a process that no one is really interested in; selecting a desired solution, instead of a process; selecting a process in transition; and selecting a system to study, not a process. When selecting the first area for TQM, the library should choose a process with the following features: it has a direct impact on its users; has a time cycle that can be reduced; is relatively simple, with clearly defined starting and ending points; is something a large number of staff agree is important; and has a lot of visibility. 2 Each library should formulate criteria that can be used in identifying and selecting processes that will benefit from TQM. No single formula will work for every library. Each library has to customize its own quality-oriented infrastructure.
After the target areas have been selected, the next step is to establish respective teams to address the specific challenges. All team members do not have to come from the respective areas; some members may come from other areas in the library, and some may come from outside of the library. Should the department/unit head chair the team? Not necessarily. Quality improvement teams make up the basic building blocks of the quality improvement process. They consist of three major kinds of teams: (1) A functional team--library staff from a work unit; the team is ongoing and its membership is voluntary, (2) A cross-functional team—staff from more than one functional area to work on targets for improvement that cut across functional lines; the team is ongoing and its membership is voluntary, and (3) A task team—staff from one or more functional areas to solve a particular problem, after which, the team disbands. Membership is selected on the basis of qualifications required.
Assessing the current situation
After the library identifies an area that it assumes can be improved by using the principles of TQM, the respective team has to determine its own reasons for working on this particular area. It may want to survey the users of the products/services of the area, interview individuals from the work area, determine how much improvement is needed, describe the current processes/procedures used in the problem area, and establish quality-improvement indicators. Data on all aspects of the problem area should be collected. These data will be useful in developing the quality-improvement indicators. Brainstorming is a good way to explore a broad range of options; it will be useful in generating ideas, garnering participation by all team members, and encouraging creativity. The team should also stratify the problem area from various viewpoints. After the situation has been stratified, it will be specific enough to analyze.
The analysis phase should primarily address the root causes of the problem area. These causes have to be verified by data, and those root causes with the greatest impact must be identified. Team members are to present ways to discover the “cause and effect” components of the problem area. The following are examples of tools that may be used during the analysis: (1) “Fishbone analysis,” so named because it resembles a fishbone, is a good tool for diagramming those categories of potential causes (or solutions) of the problem. Subcategories are drawn off the main categories. It is an effective tool for studying processes and situations, but should not be used for planning purposes. (2) A Pareto chart depicts a series of bars whose heights reflect the frequency or impact of problems. The bars are arranged (from left to right) in descending order of height (based on degree of importance—taller bars being the most important). The Pareto principle advocates that 80 percent of the trouble comes from 20 percent of the problems. Pareto charts narrow down which causes to address first, and they are good tools to use in building consensus among team members. They assist in the search for significance. Arranging data on a Pareto chart helps to highlight the “vital few” in contrast to the “trivial many.” (3) A scatter diagram is another tool often used in the analysis phase. By using a horizontal axis (called the x axis) and a vertical axis (called the y axis), a scatter diagram allows the team to see if there is a relationship or correlation between two characteristics. The scatter diagram is often used for further examination of the elements isolated in the “fishbone diagram.” Other tools frequently used in analyzing root causes are the histogram, control chart, and dot plot.
After the root causes of the problem have been identified, the next step is to select countermeasures (proposed solutions) to the root causes. Some solutions to the problems may appear to be obvious, but this rarely occurs. Much care has to be taken in choosing a solution; in making the choice, the team should work from its database (its research options), be as creative as the issue allows, and be diligent in the pursuit of not just an adequate answer but the “right” answer (QualTech Quality Improvement Program, Team Leader Course Participant Workbook (Miami, Fla: Power & Light Company, 1987), 4). One highly effective technique is to compare the alternative countermeasures. Each countermeasure should be rated in terms of effectiveness and feasibility. What will each of them involve in terms of people, funding, space, and time? After the right countermeasures have been chosen, they can be judged by checking to see if the root causes have been reduced or eliminated, the quality-improvement indicators have been satisfied, user needs have been met or exceeded, and cost benefits were achieved.
The team should develop an action plan to implement the countermeasures; the plan should answer who, what, when, where, and how. Formation of an action plan is a technique that catalogs all the things that must be done to ensure a smooth and objective trial of solution or improvement. (Ibid, 4-20.) Moreover, the plan must contain standards of behaviour that will prevent the root causes from reoccurring. The standards and solutions should become part of the respective library area’s daily work, and they should be considered for replication in other areas that have identified problems. Periodic checks with assigned responsibilities have to be built in the action plan.
Continuous improvement is at the core of TQM. This ongoing improvement process refers to all activities that fall under the purview of TQM. Countermeasures, for example, should be evaluated to see if they require fine tuning or a major overhaul after a specific time. In a sense, nothing in a TQM-driven library should escape some scrutiny to see if improvement can be brought forth in the various processes. Even the problem-solving activity itself should be put under the microscope to see what was done well, what could be improved, and what could be done differently.
Deming translates his methodology for evaluation as the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) system and describes it in four steps:
After a library has had TQM in place for a couple years, an external visiting team (people with TQM experience) should be invited to evaluate the library’s TQM activities. The visiting team should seek answers to questions like: “What went right?” “What went wrong?” “Is TQM transforming the culture of the library, and, if so, how?”
- Organize an appropriate team that can study a process and decide what change might improve it.
- If enough data are not available, tests or studies need to be performed with support from the group. Make the necessary changes, preferably on a small scale.
- Observe the effects.
- Determine what was learned. Repeat the test if necessary, perhaps in a different environment. Look for side effects.(Mary Walton, The Deming Management Method (New York: Putnam, 1986), 86).
Points to remember
- TQM is user focused. If the user is not the centerpiece of the TQM endeavor, then the library is missing the target.
- TQM attacks the process, not the people. Deming believes 85 percent of the problems are traceable to the problem itself, and just 15 percent to the people (W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1985), 21). Library staff even at the lowest level possible should be empowered to make day-to-day decisions.
- Without commitment from the library director, TQM will have a short life.
- Implementing TQM will require additional resources.
- A large investment will have to be made in training. A new or renewed culture of quality is one of the dividends realized by TQM libraries.
- Instant gratification should not be expected from TQM. Expect at least two or three years before its benefits are evident. Organizations that have failed in their TQM quest did not allow enough time for the benefits to evolve. TQM requires patience; it is not instant pudding.
- The TQM principle of continuous improvement will enhance the library’s opportunity to offer more value-added services. A new psychology of value will evolve among library users. • The success of TQM depends largely on how well its philosophy and expected benefits are communicated within the entire library.
Libraries stand to gain much from using the principles of TQM. Based on the service orientation of libraries, it is heartening to see a commitment to improve service further and make user satisfaction a top priority. TQM should not be perceived as a panacea. It is simply another management technique that focuses on continuous improvement in a formal, systematic manner. Its emphasis, for example, on bench marking and reducing cycle time is commendable and appropriate for managing libraries. Focusing on cycle time means speeding up the total time, start to finish, that it takes to complete a library transaction. Who can argue with reducing the cycle time in libraries and becoming more responsive to our users?
Are libraries a good fit for TQM? Deming responds by stating that “service organizations need quality improvement even more than business or industry.” (W. Edwards Deming, Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1982), 235). An all-out quality commitment could possibly require some libraries to move from entrenched habits (e.g., we’ve always done it this way) toward creating a somewhat new attitude about user services. In closing, I offer the following “quality creed”: “We shall strive for excellence in all endeavours. We shall set our goals to achieve total customer (user) satisfaction and to deliver defect-free, premium-value products on time, with service second to none.” (author unknown)