According to Rocha-Luna, Garza-Reyes, and Kumar (2013), organizations often achieve consistent and predictable results when employees understand the processes that underlie production and service delivery. This principle underscores the application of the quality management system in improving organizational outcomes because it is a collection of interrelated processes to improve quality control functions. Initially, process management was a product of seminal works done by Ishikawa, Deming, and Juran (cited in Benner & Tushman, 2003) in the late 1970s and the 1980s.
Since then, it has evolved to become a central philosophy in total quality management programs. Furthermore, process management has become part of a continuous progression of quality management functions. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the International Organization for Standardization’s Series 9000 program (ISO 9000), and business process reengineering are some quality management standards and programs that highlight the essence of process management in quality control (Benner & Tushman, 2003).
This paper provides an in-depth understanding of process management and its relation to quality. It also helps to explain how information technology helps to achieve quality integration. However, before delving into these details, it is important to understand the relationship between total quality management (TQM) and quality management systems (QMS).
Relationship between TQM and QMS
By definition, quality management systems (QMS) include the tools and processes that different organizations use to achieve quality deliverables (Robinson & Clayton, 2014). Such tools and processes may include quality assurance (reviews) and quality control testing methods. Comparatively, TQM is a set of steps that an organization follows to get a process right or to meet quality standards the first time (American Society for Quality, 2016).
In this regard, the TQM process strives to identify problematic areas in the quality management process to solve it before it causes problems. The main difference between the two concepts lies in the fact that TQM is a management strategy, while QMS defines the processes needed to implement quality management systems (Robinson & Clayton, 2014). In this regard, both concepts are complementary.
TQM and QMS have significant roles to play in improving quality management processes. Technology is at the center of this role. A study conducted by Prajogo and Sohal (2006) that involved more than 100 Australian organizations evaluated the relationship between technology and quality integration, using the TQM approach. They found out that TQM showed a strong predictive power against quality performance (Prajogo & Sohal, 2006).
The same study revealed that technology and research and development (R&D) processes had a significant relationship with quality performance (Prajogo & Sohal, 2006). Consequently, the findings mean that technology and R&D significantly influence innovation performance. The major implication of this analysis is that technology is an important tool to use with TQM to improve QMS. However, technology does not operate in a vacuum; it hinges on an organization’s process management process.
Importance of Process Management
People have different interpretations of process management. While some believe the concept centers on technological innovation and adoption, others believe it is about optimization (iGrafx, 2016). The second group of people often highlights TQM and Six Sigma as examples of optimization techniques that describe process management.
Nonetheless, for purposes of this paper, we would use the definition of the iGrafx (2016) which says process management is an evolution of application development processes in an organization. In this regard, business process management is important to organizations because it helps to align their business functions with customer needs. This tool helps align the organizational process to improve quality functions. Its relation to information technology appears below.
Relationship between Process Management and Information Technology
“Technological innovation is a central engine to organizational adaptation” (Benner & Tushman, 2003, p. 242). This statement helps us to understand the relationship between technology and process innovation because it espouses how technology affects exploratory and exploitative innovation.
Based on this assertion, Benner and Tushman (2003) say a firm’s ability to adopt innovative technologies would determine whether it destabilizes the technological regime of an organization, or reinforces the same. Therefore, an organization’s dynamic capability depends on how well it exploits existing technologies. As process management techniques strive to enhance continuous innovation in an organization, their increased use upsets the balance between exploitative and exploratory innovation (Benner & Tushman, 2003).
Process- focused activities affect technological innovation in many ways. For example, they determine how an organization would allocate its resources towards fulfilling an organization’s technological functions (Benner & Tushman, 2003). Organizational process management is a critical part of the QMS. However, the process of implementing the best process management system requires the effective use of information technology tools.
Rocha-Luna et al. (2013) say these tools help to improve organizational outcomes because they eliminate uncertainty in the process management process. Relative to this assertion, Keller (2011) affirms the same fact by saying that information technology tools help to eliminate the unknown and creates certainty in the quality management process.
While information technology tools help to improve quality management processes through QMS, Keller (2011) says they are not a prerequisite to the realization of high-quality processes because they only help to improve different aspects of a business. Relative to this assertion, he says, “We tend to think of technology change, relative to things like information systems, new product developments, and refinements or radical new production processes, while continuous improvement is focused more on changes to our business processes” (Keller 2011, p. 1).
Benner and Tushman (2003) add to this debate by saying, generally, information technology helps to improve quality management by leveraging the values of standardization, flexibility, innovation, integration, and automation in process management. Indeed, companies have demonstrated the value of technology in different areas of quality improvement. Business process outsourcing is one such area because experts have demonstrated its ability to provide cost and quality improvements.
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
BPO is one area of quality improvement that is associated with the use of information technology. According to Benner and Tushman (2003), the concept refers to the process of contracting some aspects of business operations to third parties for purposes of increasing an organization’s efficiency in undertaking its core processes.
Originally, this quality management process was associated with manufacturing firms such as Coca Cola because they were among the first organizations to outsource significant parts of their supply chain processes. BPO has helped them to improve their quality management processes by increasing flexibility in the same. Owing to such competencies, many multinationals have used this technique to improve their processes. The most notable ones include Dell, AIG, IBM, and Citi Group (Benner & Tushman, 2003).
Application in the Health Sector
Quality health care is an important aspect of service delivery. Information technology tools have been instrumental in improving quality management systems in the health sector, as seen in a case study of a large Swedish teaching hospital that adopted electronic medical recording as a strategy of improving its quality management process (Øvretveit, Scott, Rundall, Shortell, & Brommels, 2007).
The integration of IT in its quality management process saved time and improved the quality of health care. Although this case was successful, Øvretveit et al. (2007) acknowledge that there have been cases where EMS implementation is problematic. However, such incidences stem from the difficulty of integrating unique features of the EMS, and not necessarily with the entire system.
How would you apply Value Systems Mapping?
Value systems mapping is an important tool in analyzing quality management processes because it helps to highlight areas of criticalities. However, this tool is only applicable to linear organizational processes (Braglia, Carmignani, & Zammori, 2011). Organizations could use value systems mapping to improve process management by understanding how iterative steps in process management can incorporate the method in quality management systems. In the context of this paper, I would use the value systems mapping tool to improve quality processes by, first, executing a preliminary analysis of the quality management process to identify the critical quality path.
Thereafter, I would make improvements to this process by considering how the critical (primary) path integrates with secondary paths. Here, Braglia et al. (2011) say the secondary paths could be possible constraints to the primary path. Nonetheless, this process would help me to optimize the critical path. The possible outcome could be the identification of a new critical path of quality management. The analysis process would effectively iterate until we realize optimum management of quality processes. Consequently, a work-in-progress level would have decreased to a “safe” level where high quality is the primary output of the process.
By understanding the process management systems of an organization, it is easy for an organization to optimize its performance through system improvements. The findings of this paper have affirmed this fact by demonstrating how technology could help enhance TQM and QMS in quality management processes. The concepts of TQM and QMS focus on improving quality by satisfying, or meeting customer needs. Organizations that have inculcated both concepts in their quality management processes are poised to realize high-quality standards in their system management processes.
American Society for Quality. (2016). What is Total Quality Management (TQM)?
Benner, M., & Tushman, M. (2003).Exploitation, Exploration, and Process Management: The Productivity Dilemma Revisited. Academy of Management Review, 28(2), 238-256.
Braglia, M., Carmignani, G., & Zammori, F. (2011). A new value stream mapping approach for complex production systems. International Journal of Production Research, 44, 18-19.
iGrafx. (2016). Why Business Process Management?
Keller, R. (2011). What’s the Role of Technology in Continuous Improvement?
Øvretveit, J., Scott, T., Rundall, T., Shortell, S., & Brommels, M. (2007). Improving quality through effective implementation of information technology in healthcare. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 19(5), 259–266.
Prajogo, D., & Sohal, A. (2006). The integration of TQM and technology/R&D management in determining quality and innovation performance. Science Direct, 34(3), 296–312.
Robinson, E., & Clayton, J. (2014). Quality Management.
Rocha-Luna, L., Garza-Reyes, J.A., & Kumar, V. (2013). Building Quality Management Systems: Selecting the Right Methods and Tools. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.