The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Total Quality Management as Cultural Phenomena - a Conceptual Model and Empirical Illustration

Jaakko Kujala

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Technology to be presented with due permission for public examination and debate in Auditorium G at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 13th of December, 2002, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-6092-1)   [975 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-22-6226-6)


Total quality management has proven to be more than just a quickly disappearing management fad or fashion. It has been considered one of the most influential management innovations of the 20th century. TQM is based on a rather naïve and overly rational view of an organization but, without a doubt, it has had a significant influence on contemporary management practices. The ISO 9000 family quality standards and quality award criteria have led to the practical development and diffusion of the discipline, and at the moment, they provide the most comprehensive definition for TQM. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award has been selected as the practical definition of TQM for this study.

The role and impact of TQM is examined based upon how it ensures an organization will meet its mission and ultimate objective of long-term survival. The means of how to achieve survival are specific to an organization, and depend on multiple factors. At the basic level, organizational survival is based on the processes of external adaptation and of internal integration. The role of TQM is analyzed based on the impact it has on those processes. Additionally, this analysis takes into account both the symbolic and technical value of TQM practices and approaches.

TQM is studied as a cultural phenomenon. Schein's model of organizational culture is used to create a multilevel framework of TQM. The framework has four interrelated levels: basic assumptions, core concepts and principles, management areas, and management practices. This research focuses on the deepest level, the analysis of basic assumptions. These are implicitly inherent to the discipline, and the process of deconstruction is used to uncover the core basic assumptions that support the implementation of a TQM program. They define the basic beliefs held in an organization, which has been able to fully implement TQM. These basic beliefs include an organization's mission and relationship to the external environment, the nature of human nature and relationships, the nature of reality and truth and the nature of time and space.

The deconstruction of TQM and identification of its basic assumptions is done in the context of ideal quality management, which is the perfect implementation of TQM based on quality award scoring criteria. Convergent analysis of the discipline demonstrates that TQM is based on mutually compatible basic assumptions, which forms an ideal quality culture. The concept of ideal quality culture is a simplified model, which does not have any applications in real organizations in its pure form, but it can be used for both the theoretical and the practical improvement of the discipline. This research makes the proposal that future theory development can focus on the analysis of the implications in circumstances where some of the basic assumptions are invalid.

In practice, the argument brought forward in this research is that variation in the success of TQM implementation is based on discrepancies between the existing organizational culture and ideal quality culture. TQM programs are more likely to succeed if the prevailing organizational culture is compatible with the values and basic assumptions proposed by the total quality management discipline. In the empirical part of the study, the practical value of theoretical framework is illustrated in the analysis of application of TQM in project-oriented organization.

Keywords: quality management, organizational culture, institutional theory

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© 2002 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26