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  • Integrating Total Quality Management and Knowledge Management

    Vincent M. RibireAmerican University- USA

    and

    Reza KhorramshahgolAmerican University- USA

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    ! ABSTRACTIn the early1980s when total quality management (TQM) was first introduced in companies as the way to achieve orga-

    nizational success/excellence, it did not receive an immediate support and universal acceptance. Gradually the benefits ofquality and quality management programs became evident and controversies disappeared. Twenty years later, organizationsare facing precisely the same dilemma with Knowledge Management (KM). The aim of this paper is twofold: Firstly it sug-gests that there are many commonalities between TQM and KM and discusses how the latter can benefit from the former.Secondly, it presents the relationship and differences between TQM and KM goals and objectives. To this end, we addressissues such as: are TQM and KM two independent disciplines? Are they complementary? Do they interfere or do they facil-itate and nurture each others capabilities?

    Keywords: Knowledge Management, TQM, ISO 9000:2000, Six Sigma, National Quality Award

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    ! INTRODUCTIONThis paper identifies commonalities between Total Quality Management (TQM) and Knowledge Management (KM) and

    capitalizing on this common denominator discusses how KM, being a relatively young discipline, can benefit from highlymature and well established TQM practices. For instance, TQM is process-oriented, customer-centric and requires a culturalchange (Kolarik, 1999). Precisely the same attributes can be assigned to KM. For more than two decades TQM has been theguiding principle for various organizations, both private and public, to produce high quality products (tangible and intangi-ble) and attain high customer (internal and external) satisfaction (Crosby, 1979; Deming, 1986; Ishikawa, 1985; Juran, 1988;Taguchi, 1986). In the early 1980s the focus of TQM was to continuously improve processes by reducing variation andimproving the mean of a quality characteristic (e.g., performance). Initially, manufacturing quality was the main aim.However, during 1990s, with the advent of global markets and digital economy, TQM priorities also shifted. TQM nowfocused mostly on services (rather than tangible/physical goods) and was utilized as a competitive weapon for product/serv-ice differentiation in the newly borderless markets where, for the most part, fierce competition made price and quality a non-differentiating factor. It is worth mentioning that during this e-Commerce era, the true spirit of TQM and its main slogani.e., Customer is King/Queenwas practiced. This was mainly due to fierce global competition among the firms as well asavailability of various kinds of product related information to the customers.

    The following sections define and describe Knowledge Management and presents the technical considerations and managerial factorsthat contribute to the successful implementation of KM and how TQM practices can assist in this endeavor.

    ARTICLEJournal of Management Systems, Vol. XVI, No. 1, 2004,Copyright 2004, Maximilian Press, Publisher

    Integrating Total Quality Management and Knowledge Management 39

    Journal of Management Systems, Vol. 16, Number 1, 2004

  • Knowledge Management Definition

    Knowledge Management has been defined in different ways by different authors. We selected the following definitionwhich we think clearly define the purpose of KM:

    Knowledge management is the process of capturing a companys collective expertise wherever it resides - indatabases, on paper, or in peoples heads - and distributing it to wherever it can help produce the biggestpayoff(Hibbard, 1997)

    Some of the most popular KM practices include:

    Communities- of- Practice/Purpose Asynchronous Communications (e-mail, message board/broadcasting, subscriptions and alerting, discussion threats)Synchronous Communications (instant messaging/white boarding, application and screen sharing, video and audio con-ferencing)Collaborative Services (calendar and scheduling, task management, survey voting and polling, workflow) Document and Content Management Knowledge Engineering, Taxonomies, MappingKnowledge discovery (Data warehousing, Data mining, Expert systems) Lessons Learned and Best Practices Repositories E-learning, training, mentoringExpertise Locator/Organizational Yellow PagesChange management, Change Agent, BPRCulture change, Incentives, Leadership,.Intellectual Capital/ Property

    KM practices are numerous and can be categorized in different ways. However, a certain agreement on a typology defin-ing two main KM approaches exists: codification versus personalization (Hansen, Nohria, & Tierney, 1999). The codifica-tion approach or people-to-documents approach is intended to collect, codify and disseminate information. It relies heav-ily on Information Technology (IT). One of the benefits of the codification approach is the reuse of knowledge. The aim ofcodification is to put organizational knowledge into a form that makes it accessible to those who need it. It literally turnsknowledge into a code (though not necessarily a computer code) to make it as organized, explicit, portable, and easy to under-stand as possible (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). In contrast, the personalization approach or people to people approachfocuses on developing networks for linking people so that tacit knowledge can be shared. It focuses on dialogue between indi-viduals, not knowledge in a database. Knowledge that has not been codified - and probably couldnt be - is transferred inbrainstorming sessions and one-on-one conversations (Hansen et al., 1999). An investment is made on building networks ofpeople, where knowledge is shared not only face-to-face but also over the telephone, by email, using instant messaging appli-cations and via videoconference.

    If we contrast these two KM approaches with quality approaches, most quality approaches mainly focus on codification(Data collection, Measurements, Quality certifications, Quality procedures, ). However, most of the employees know-how,expertise, experience and savoir faire are currently not captured and not codified due to their tacit nature (people can knowmore than they can tell (Polanyi, 1966)). The question then becomes: Could we increase the effectiveness and efficiency ofcurrent quality practices by better managing employees knowledge? The emphasis on the personalization approach - whichpermits tacit knowledge sharing to occur - remains limited in quality practices. An example of personalization approach wasthe concept of Quality circles. We believe that in this manner KM can play an important role in improving quality and cus-tomer satisfaction. Another drawback of over emphasizing on codification practices is that they have a tendency to kill inno-vation and creativity.

    40 Vincent M. Ribire and Reza Khorramshahgol

    Journal of Management Systems, Vol. 16, Number 1, 2004

  • Problems and Issues in KM Implementation and Practice

    We can categorize KM related issues into the following: Organizational/Managerial, Cultural, Technical, and People relat-ed. As we review these problems, one can notice the parallelism between KM and TQM problems/issues and challenges.

    Technology is the easiest part of KM. Perhaps the most significant technical consideration for KM systems is informa-tion quality. Poor information quality has been and still is the major concern of decision makers and business managers andit has a direct impact on the bottom line of any business. In addition, processes must be established for information qualityto ensure integrity and consistency of knowledge and knowledge presentation. This applies to both the information/knowl-edge that enters into KM system from various sources and the knowledge produced by applying knowledge discovery tech-niques (data mining, expert systems, intelligent agents, data warehouse ) on knowledge repositories. Another importantingredient to assure information quality is users. The users of a KM system should be involved in determining what goes intothe KM system, what output is expected from it and what will be a context based format for presenting the (input) informa-tion and the (output) knowledge.

    Cultural issues are quite significant in KM and they directly impact KM success or failure. In fact they are the first bar-rier to success (Barth, 2000; Knowledge Management Review, 2001; KPMG, 2000). As in TQM, in KM initiatives people tendto avoid or fight change and they prefer the old way of doing things in the company. With KM, there will be a new way ofdecision making in the organization and people have to share knowledge and know-how. Knowledge being often associat-ed with power, promoting knowledge sharing is not an easy task particularly if employees dont see how they can directlybenefit from it. Knowledge transfer can also take place among various organizations (Lam, Chen, & Ubroeck, 2002).Leadership then becomes critical and managing through a knowledge lens should become a priority (Ribire & Sitar, 2003).

    Organizational and managerial issues in KM include devising managerial processes for capturing and distributing knowl-edge. In addition, these processes need to be improved continuously to become more effective and efficient. KM systemsmust be included in an organizations structure. However, such a structure (as in TQM) must be flexible and adaptive. It isimportant that organizational structures are designed for flexibility (as opposed to rigidity) so that they encourage sharing andcollaboration across boundaries w

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