Total quality management (TQM) is a management model with roots in the 1920s when statistical methods got integrated into corporate governance. It developed further when American companies lost market share to Japanese companies. There was evidence that the Japanese were engaging every employee in quality control such that quality was the prevailing principle for most companies. To counter the Japanese takeover, American companies developed the TQM method to a huge success that saw them regain their market share.
Apple is a multinational American technology company specializing in consumer products such as software, electronics, and online services. The company’s headquarters are in Cupertino, California, although most of the manufacturing is outsourced overseas. The company’s strategic plan emphasizes quality through sound management systems (Apple’s Product Development Process, 2020). The key pillars of the strategic management by the company place particular importance on mission, vision, strategy and formulation, objectives, strategic implementation, and strategic control.
Dr. Deming’s TQM philosophy proposes five ideas that link a company’s processes to customer needs. The five steps are: conducting consumer research, producing the product, checking it, marketing the product, and finally analyzing its reception (Fawzy and Olson, 2018). Apple does not follow these steps explicitly, but an analysis of their processes reveals an indirect implementation of Deming’s proposal. When it comes to conducting consumer research, Apple may not do it in the traditional sense, but that does not mean that they do not research at all; they observe consumer interactions with their products and tailor them to be of the highest quality for consumer needs. On the second step of producing the product, Apple has come a long way since its first product in 1976 (Fawzy and Olson, 2018). In 2011, Apple sold 40 million iPads and 93 million iPhones (Apple’s Product Development Process, 2020). The importance of total quality management to Apple’s success is undeniable.
On Deming’s third step of checking the product, Apple has Infinite Loop labs that ensure their products go through a testing phase that is just as rigorous as their production. A good example was the iPhone 4, which had antenna issues where Apple deployed a generous package of $ 17 million to correct the problem (Apple’s Product Development Process, 2020). Deming’s fourth step concerns marketing the product; Apple is likely one of the best at selling their products, from Superbowl ads to celebrity endorsements. Their 1984 Superbowl ad is considered one of the greatest commercials (Fawzy and Olson, 2018). The last step from Deming’s model is to analyze the product to ensure it is received well. Apple does its best to ensure that its products are well received. Going back to the example of the antenna, Apple dedicated many resources to correct them for the iPhone 4. In as much as Apple does not explicitly state that they are implementing TQM, it is evident that their methods do follow the TQM gospel.
Quality Controls at Apple
Apple’s product development process is one of the most successful in the world. Design is at the heart of Apple’s success with their design team given carte blanche over all their activities; they report to neither manufacturing nor finance and have the freedom to choose their budgets. According to Apple’s Product Development Process (2020), the design team can even ignore manufacturing practicalities. Apple product design teams are separated from other Apple operations to maintain secrecy. Secrecy is essential for quality because leakage of product design could lead to counterfeits and ruin customer surprise, which is part of customer satisfaction. The design team is supposed to report directly to Apple executives, which gives them ample time to focus on design and avoid the day-to-day hustle.
After designing, the next step is the prototype phase, accomplished through Apple New Product Process (ANPP). According to Apple’s Product Development Process (2020), this stage involves the product creation process, where roles are defined clearly with clear deadlines. Apple has an engineering program manager (EPM) and a global supply manager (GSM) who handle production after the product has come from design. These departments operate from China, where Apple manufacture their products. The EPM and GSM teams are responsible for delivering the products to the market at the right time, in the right way, and at the right price. Their motto is to put the product first. Apple applies an iterative quality control process where a product is made, tested, and reviewed, after which the design team makes improvements on it and then builds all over again. These are 4–6-week cycles that may occur many times until they achieve the desired product form.
The above processes ensure that they accomplish the quality assurance principle of getting it right the first time through a rigorous iterative process. Apple reviews a prototype and rebuilds it until they get it right. The review process is stacked with quality inspectors that hound for even the smallest defects. Since Apple does not do its manufacturing, it has a very stringent contract with its manufacturing contractor, Foxconn, where they return products that do not meet quality standards. It is no doubt that Apple does a lot of quality control, but even a great process could use some improvements. There have been complaints that Apple slows down old models of their products through software updates. Whether this is intentional to make the customer go back remains unconfirmed. Still, it seems like an unethical practice that would make customers switch to other products if they could match Apple’s quality.
Even though Apple has not adopted the TQM approach explicitly like Toyota or Ford, there is research evidence that they do follow the principles. Apple applies TQM principles because it reduces the flaws that could arise in the manufacturing and delivery of its products and ensures that its products create a good customer experience (Fawzy and Olson, 2018). Apple could also adopt the following to enhance customer satisfaction and accrue more added value.
Innovation and New Technology
Apple is already one of the most innovative companies globally, but even great innovation could still use some improvement. Apple’s current range of products includes mobile phones, personal computers, streaming services, software, etc. Their products have an excellent reputation for quality, but some complaints could be addressed, such as short battery life and charger cords (Saxena and Rao, 2019). Customers are always happy to buy quality products that they know they could serve regardless of their prices.
Increase their product line
Improving existing products such as computing, mobile, and other electronic devices will enhance their market standing. Apple should also strive to increase the range of the products they manufacture. Apple enjoys a considerable religious following from its loyal customers. Diversifying their product line will always increase customer loyalty, who can now get more under one roof (Zhang, 2018). They could also develop new models of the upper segment of their products to target organizations and professionals
Apple should continue to win a larger share of the market from its competitors to bolster its brand. Apple is known for its quality and expensive products, but it has failed to acquire startups that could have reinforced its luxury brand. Elon Musk has confessed that he approached Apple to acquire Tesla, but they wouldn’t even arrange an appointment with him. There are rumors that Apple plans to roll out its electric car to steal Tesla’s market share, which they could have acquired long ago. Another example of slacking in its acquisition efforts is Netflix which they failed to do and later launched their movie streaming service. It does not mean that Apple should acquire all companies but since they still do acquire many companies as they did with Beats headphones, why couldn’t they do the same with Tesla yet they had the money.
Six Sigma Approach
Many companies implemented the TQM methodology to recover a market share that they had lost to Japanese companies. TQM proved useful and was adopted by many companies such as Ford Motor Company, among others. While TQM has had its successes, there is a better methodology: the six-sigma model. Six-sigma is a data-driven methodology of delivering quality to customers (Saxena and Rao, 2019). The sigma stands for standard deviation; evidently, it uses statistical parameters to optimize processes. In the method, an organization attempts to reduce its operations’ standard deviation, thus enhancing predictability and reducing uncertainty. Apple could adopt this newer and more efficient methodology to improve their processes even further.
Fawzy, M. and Olson, E. (2018). Total quality management & apple success. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Management 2018 International Annual Conference, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Web.
Saxena M. and Rao S. (2019) “Quality Management, Total Quality Management And Six Sigma,” International Journal Of Scientific & Technology Research, 8(12), pp. 394-299
Zhang, Q. (2018) “Research on Apple Inc’s Current Developing Conditions,” Open Journal of Business and Management, 06(01), pp. 39-46. doi: 10.4236/ojbm.2018.61003.