I am a strong proponent of TQM. The discipline and methods are sound, and they really do work when applied correctly. Unfortunately, I observe that many organizations approach TQM with a half hearted approach that leads to confusion and poor results. The first piece of advice I give to people considering a TQM Program is to forget it unless they are willing to fully support it as a "way of life" for the future rather than a "program."
The Quality Revolution in this country took place a few decades after it caught on in Japan (after WWII). I believe it kindled out of a kind of desperation as the Japanese companies decimated the competitive strength of the US. We woke up in the 80's unable to compete. During the next 20 years, US companies scrambled to catch up to Japan. Eventually the gap was closed in many industries, largely by learning and following the principles of TQM. The gap still remains in some industries.
One significant gap closer is the LEAN concept of manufacturing, which is really an extension of the TQM philosophy. The Toyota Company pioneered the technology, so, once again, the Japanese had the lead. Many companies in the manufacturing sector are using LEAN concepts to make huge improvements in productivity.
By the year 2005, a new world force took center stage for most companies. The force was enabled by two things 1) the shrinking of the world due to internet commerce, and 2) the opening of China. All of a sudden over the past few years, the competitive balance has shifted again. When you have large populations of well educated people in India and China who are eager to work at very low wages without benefits, that represents a different kind of threat. Now the emphasis has shifted in many companies to a kind of survival mode and the emphasis on quality and lean thinking may have slid to more of a back burner exercise. Yet it is exactly for this reason that we need to embrace and use these concepts.
That trend is troubling to me because I believe if you take your emphasis away from the discipline of quality and lean concepts, the skills will quickly atrophy and become less useful. That would only pour kerosene on the fire of the competitive struggle. Without the benefits of TQM and LEAN, a company cannot hope to survive. It remains to be seen how this drama will play out, but for sure it will affect you and me along with our children and grand children.