8 Important Principles for Total Quality Management in the Cold Chain

Total Quality Management (TQM) within the context of cold chain systems is an approach that cold storage facilities use to improve their internal processes and increase customer satisfaction. When it is properly implemented, this style of management can lead to decreased costs related to corrective or preventative maintenance, better overall performance, and an increased number of happy and loyal customers.

TQM is mainly concerned with continuous improvement in all work, from high level strategic planning and decision-making, to detailed execution of work elements on the facility floor. It stems from the belief that mistakes can be avoided and defects can be prevented. It leads to continuously improving results, in all aspects of work, as a result of continuously improving capabilities, people, processes, technology and machine capabilities.

However, TQM is not something that happens overnight. While there are a number of software solutions that will help organisations quickly start to implement a quality management system, there are some underlying philosophies that the company must integrate throughout every department of the facility and at every level of management. Whatever other resources you use, you should adopt these eight important principles of Total Quality Management as a foundation for all your cold chain activities.

8 principles of total quality management:

  • Customer-focused: The customer ultimately determines the level of quality. No matter what a cold chain organisation does to foster quality improvement—training employees, integrating traceability processes, or upgrading AgTech systems—the customer determines whether the efforts were worthwhile.
  • Total employee involvement: All employees participate in working toward common goals. Total employee commitment can only be obtained after fear has been driven from the workplace, when empowerment has occurred, and when management has provided the proper environment.
  • Process-centered: A fundamental part of TQM is a focus on process thinking. A process is a series of steps that take inputs from suppliers (internal or external) and transforms them into outputs that are delivered to customers (internal or external). The steps required to carry out the process are defined, and performance measures are continuously monitored in order to detect unexpected variation.
  • Integrated system: Although a cold chain organisation may consist of many different functional specialties often organised into vertically structured departments, it is the horizontal processes interconnecting these functions that are the focus of TQM.
  • Strategic and systematic approach: A critical part of the management of quality is the strategic and systematic approach to achieving an organisation’s vision, mission, and goals. This process, called strategic planning or strategic management, includes the formulation of a strategic plan that integrates quality as a core component.
  • Continual improvement: A large aspect of TQM is continual process improvement. Continual improvement drives an organisation to be both analytical and creative in finding ways to become more competitive and more effective at meeting stakeholder expectations.
  • Fact-based decision making: In order to know how well an organisation is performing, data on performance measures are necessary. TQM requires that an organisation continually collect and analyse data in order to improve decision making accuracy, achieve consensus, and allow prediction based on past history, whether that be for growing, storage or distribution of fresh produce supplies.
  • Communications: During times of organisational change, as well as part of day-to-day operation, effective communications plays a large part in maintaining morale and in motivating employees at all levels. Communications involve strategies, method, and timeliness.

Before you start looking for any kind of quality management software, it is important to make sure you are capable of implementing these fundamental principles throughout the company. This kind of management style can be a huge culture change, and sometimes the shift can come with some growing pains, but if you build on a foundation of quality principles, you will be equipped to make this change and start working toward real long-term success, higher quality deliverables and reduced food loss numbers across the post harvest journey.

Some of the commitments required in order to successfully implement Total Quality Management within the cold chain include:

  • Managerial planning & deploying of tasks
  • Support
  • Checks & Reviews
  • Communication & recognition
  • Employee Training
  • Statistical Process Control
  • Systemic measurements & Focus
  • Process Management
  • Customer Driven Standards

Implementation Principles and Processes

A preliminary step in TQM implementation is to assess the organisation’s current reality. Relevant preconditions have to do with the organisation’s history, its current needs, the events leading to the adoption of a TQM system, and the existing employee quality of working life. If the current reality does not include important preconditions, TQM implementation should be delayed until the organisation is in a state in which TQM is likely to succeed.

If a facility has a track record of effective responsiveness to the environment, and if it has been able to successfully change the way it operates when needed, TQM will be easier to implement. If a facility has been historically reactive and has no skill at improving its operating systems, there will be both employee skepticism and a lack of skilled change agents. If this condition prevails, a comprehensive program of management and leadership development may be instituted. A management audit is a good assessment tool to identify current levels of organisational functioning and areas in need of change. An organisation should be basically healthy before beginning TQM. If it has significant problems such as a very unstable funding base, weak administrative systems, lack of managerial skill, or poor employee morale, TQM would not be appropriate. However, a certain level of stress is probably desirable to initiate TQM as people need to feel a need for change.

Steps in Managing the Transition

Basic steps in managing a transition to a Total Quality Management system:

  • Identifying tasks to be done
  • Creating necessary management structures
  • Developing strategies for building commitment
  • Designing mechanisms to communicate the change
  • Assigning resources

Task identification would include a study of present conditions; assessing readiness through analysis; creating a model of the desired operational state around what preexisting processes are/aren’t already in place. To communicate the change, mechanisms beyond existing processes will need to be developed. Special all-staff meetings attended by executives, sometimes designed as input or dialog sessions, may be used to kick off the process, and TQM newsletters may be an effective ongoing communication tool to keep employees aware of activities and accomplishments.

In summary, first assess preconditions and the current state of the organisation to make sure the need for change is clear and that TQM is an appropriate strategy. Leadership styles and organisational culture must be congruent with TQM. If they are not, this should be worked on or TQM implementation should be avoided or delayed until favourable conditions exist.

Remember that this will be a difficult, comprehensive, and long-term process. Leaders will need to maintain their commitment, keep the process visible, provide necessary support, and hold people accountable for results. Use input from stakeholders such as clients, referring agencies and funding sources where possible and, of course, maximise employee involvement in design of the system. Always keep in mind that TQM should be purpose driven. Be clear on the organisation’s vision for the future and stay focused on it. TQM can be a powerful technique for reducing resource waste, costs & food losses, while also improving the functionality of operations and optimising the quality & quantity of deliverables to retailers and consumers.

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