Can ISO 9000 Quality Assurance Standards Replace TQM?

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The business environment is highly competitive, thanks to the prevailing technological advancement, globalization, and ever-changing customer preferences and expectations. As organizations strive to remain aggressive in terms of seeking to enhance customer satisfaction, the demand for quality services and processes features prominently. The field of quality management has attracted enormous attention. As such, several quality management approaches and standards have been put forward to ensure that organizations can deliver quality services and products to their customers (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013).

Among the leading quality principles are the ISO 9000 Quality Assurance Standards and Total Quality Management (TQM), which have a widespread application and adoption in the business world. First published in 1987, the ISO 9000 series of standards provides guidelines and approaches through which organizations can consistently design, produce, and deliver quality services and products to their customers (Ng et al. 2015).

On the other hand, TQM considered a rather recent series of quality standards, which advocate for the satisfaction of customers through the engagement and active participation of a company’s stakeholders, from employees to the top management (Delić et al. 2014). The two quality standards have attracted significant attention. A growing body of research has sought to discuss their complementary and divergent characteristics. Importantly, there are concerns on whether ISO 9000 can replace TQM to ensure that organizations achieve quality levels that are critical to facilitate their competitiveness (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013).

However, the above concerns on the application of the two standards arise in the background of a growing literature that shows that the standards complement each and that ISO 9000 is the first step towards Total Quality Management. Hence, the objective of this report is to show that ISO 9000 quality assurance standards cannot replace the need for TQM implementation. Instead, the former should be put in place as the first step toward total quality management.

Can ISO 9000 Replace the Need for TQM? A Comparison of the Two Standards

ISO 9000 series of quality standards can be traced back to the military procurement operations in World War II. However, it was not until 1979 when the British Standards Institution adopted the first civil quality management standard, the BS 5750. In 1987, the BS 5750 was modified and changed to the standard of ISO 9000 (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013). The standard was updated in 1994 and again in 2000 when significant changes were introduced.

The use of ISO 9000 series in organizations is growing to the extent of being adopted by more than 400,000 companies in almost 160 countries. The standard has six provisions for quality management, which include the control of documents, the control of records, internal audits, the control of nonconforming products or services, corrective action, and preventive approach (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013). Over the years, the changes that have been made to ISO 9000 standards in 1994 and 2000 have allowed the standard to be reviewed and to be adapted to reflect the ever-changing business environment.

For instance, the ISO 9001:2000, which reflects the 2000 revision of the standard, introduced new concepts of process management. Further, the changes recognized the importance of the identification of the interactions of the various processes and their management for the success of the business (Ng et al. 2015). The ISO 9001: 2000 focuses on customer needs, expectations, and the importance of improving business performance.

TQM can be traced back to the 1920s following the introduction of the statistical theory that was applied to product quality control. In the 1940s, the concept was further enhanced and/or developed in Japan under the guidance of three Americans, namely, Deming, Feigenbaum, and Juram (Kammoun & Aouni 2013). TQM focuses on customer satisfaction through the active engagement of all business stakeholders.

The standards are guided by eight fundamental principles (Delić et al. 2014). The first important tenet of the standard is customer focus. In this case, the client is viewed as the ultimate determinant of the quality of products and services offered by a business. In other words, regardless of the efforts that an organization puts in place to improve quality, the customer has the final say concerning whether such endeavors are effective and/or worthwhile (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013).

The second important tenet of TQM is total employee involvement. In the area, the primary aim of TQM is to create and facilitate an environment where all staff members are critical players in the efforts toward the achievement of the organizational goals. According to Delić et al. (2014), total employee involvement is only possible when there is no fear in the workplace, and employees are motivated and provided with good working conditions. Further, Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013) assert that to guarantee high-performance in the workplace, it is important to integrate continuous improvement efforts, as well as facilitate the creation of self-managed teams that will ensure that employees have a sense of responsibility and that the management trusts their work and judgment. The third tenet of the Total Quality Management System is process-centeredness.

Delić et al. (2014) assert that the process-centeredness of TQM allows the organization to think about all the processes that are undertaken from the sourcing of inputs from suppliers to the final step when the product is delivered to customers. Through this thinking, the organization can define the processes and hence put in place performance parameters that will ensure that the output of the organization meets the quality expectations of the client (Zárraga-Rodríguez et al., 2014). The continuous monitoring of the processes ensures that quality evaluations based on the performance parameters are detected and corrected early.

An integrated system is another major theme of Total Quality Management standards. According to Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013), while organizations majorly constitute different functions often organized vertically, the horizontal processes that interconnect the functions are very critical. They form the focus of TQM. In support of the above assertions, Delić et al. (2014) claim that the micro-processes add up to larger procedures, which facilitate the achievement of the different business activities that are essential in implementing an organization’s strategy.

The above claim may be interpreted to mean that all stakeholders, and most importantly, the employees, must have a clear grasp of the organization’s mission and vision, as well as the quality policies and objectives to facilitate a high-performance business environment. According to Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013), an integrated business system can incorporate ISO 9000 standards towards the creation of a strong organizational culture. Hence, from a critical point of view, with a deeply enshrined quality culture, an organization is in a better position to achieve excellence in its services and products.

Other essential tenets of the TQM include strategic and systematic approaches, which facilitate the achievement of an organization’s vision, mission, and goals. One may wish to know the specific TQM role that these processes play. Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013) respond perfectly to this issue. According to them, the processes provide room for the creation and implementation of a strategic plan where quality is the core component. This perspective points to the concept of continual improvement, which Kammoun and Aouni (2013) present as another core feature of TQM where an organization is actively in search of ways and approaches to improving the quality of its products and services.

Further, TQM is also based on fact-oriented decision-making, which involves the collection and use of performance data. To expound on the issue of fact-based decision-making, Delić et al. (2014) reveal the strategic role that quality standard play by requiring an organization to gather and analyze performance data to avail valid and reliable decisions. Communication is an important tenet of TQM. It advocates for the sharing of information at all levels of the organization. In fact, Kammoun and Aouni (2013) present it as a critical part of not only ensuring that employees are aware of the activities and progress of an organization but also in motivating and maintaining high morale at the workplace.

Based on the above critical tenets of TQM, the next important process is on the implementation of the quality standard. According to Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013), the first step towards TQM is the assessment of the status of an organization regarding quality management and achievement. Such process factors the organization’s history, current performance, and its needs. The next step involves the assessment of the workforce, productivity, and quality of employees’ working lives.

The reader may wonder whether organizational health is a non-issue when it comes to TQM. Delić et al. (2014) offer a critical response that while good health of an organization is crucial to the success of TQM, an essential factor is a willingness and desire to recognize the shortcomings that exist and striving to change towards better quality standards. Such desire includes the will to change from traditional to modern systems and an overall drive to maintain a competitive advantage. To understand the health of the organization, an internal organizational and management audit allows the identification of the current functional status, as well as providing recommendations for areas that require change (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013). The above changes provide a good platform for the implementation of TQM with quality outcomes for the organization.

With reference to the above discussion, it is evident that the ISO 9000 and TQM have tenets that make them highly preferred in organizations. According to Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013), it is for this reason that many organizations and scholars are profoundly divided on whether ISO 9000 standards can replace the requirement for TQM implementation in an organization. According to Delić et al. (2014), there are many claims by writers who are of the opinion that ISO 9000 is not enough. However, many of the studies that exist have been theoretical, presenting little or no empirical evidence to substantiate such claims. However, some evidence exists that supports the notion that ISO 9000 standards are not adequate (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013).

Firstly, ISO 9000 standards have been criticized with the arguments that the certification process does not deal with critical issues of TQM, such as strategic planning, leadership, and employee empowerment (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013).

In this regard, questions arise on the ability of ISO 9000 to result in effective implementation of quality management practices. However, other studies point out that the above-alleged weakness of ISO 9000 is well covered if the clauses of ISO 9001 are interpreted in-depth and detail. On this note, Delić et al. (2014) clarify that clauses 4.1, 4.2, and 4.18 cover management responsibilities, quality systems, and training, which all require leadership, employee empowerment, and strategic planning for quality management. Furthering the argument, Vilkas and Vaitkevicius (2013) assert that a considerable literature provides a linkage between the benefits of ISO 9000 to the constructs of quality management practices, including leadership, supplier relationships, and quality assurance, just to mention a few.

The involvement of senior management is another important area that provides a distinction between ISO 9000 and TQM. Murmura and Bravi (2016) note that while ISO 9000 series of standards require employees to be aware of and comprehend the quality policy in place, TQM standards require that they (employees) share its (policy) aims. Further, ISO 9000 does not address comparative and competitive issues in an organization.

As such, Lakhal (2014) views it as not a strategic tool. On the contrary, TQM considers competitive and comparative issues by embracing customers, competitive performance, and benchmarking (Zárraga-Rodríguez et al. 2014). Consequently, unlike ISO 9000, TQM is linked directly to the organization’s strategic planning process and on an ongoing basis to facilitate the achievement of the premeditated course of action.

In examining ISO 9000 and TQM, Fonseca (2015) regards the two standards as entirely different approaches. The author argues that ISO 9000 is associated with line workers, while TQM concerns itself with the top management. Further, the ISO 9000 series of quality standards is focused on providing compliance and/or gaining certification, as opposed to TQM that advocates for continuous improvement and achieving and maintaining customers’ satisfaction.

Raju and Baye (2015) point out that TQM is broader and deeper relative to ISO 9000. Additionally, TQM is viewed as majorly focusing on internal organizational processes while further going beyond customer satisfaction. On the other hand, ISO 9000 is for external assessment needs that guide the achievement of customer satisfaction. From a critical point of view, the above perspectives reveal the need to embrace both TQM and ISO 9000 since they result in the overall excellence and quality performance in organizations. Lakhal (2014) embraces this claim by noting that ISO 9000 aims at quality assurance while TQM focuses on quality management, both of which are essential tenets in enhancing excellence in organizations. The table below presents a summary of the purported differences between TQM and ISO 9000.

ISO 9000 TQM
Basic Focus Customer assurance The satisfaction of all stakeholders (customers, suppliers, shareholders, employees, and society)
The motivation for the Implementation Imposed by external factors (requirements for compliance) Generated within (internally) the organization
Areas of Application in Organizations Applied inline functions focused on products Applied throughout the whole organization
Main Participants Line management, staff members, and the quality department All employees and the management of the organization
Principal Driving Factors The desire for proof of compliance of products and services, as well as of the quality assurance system Continuous process and product improvement
Desired Outcome (goal) Ensuring eligibility in the market and marketing advantage Overall competitiveness in the market and good business results

Figure 1: Differences between TQM and ISO 9000 Quality Assurance. Source: Lakhal (2014).

In a study by Terziovski and Guerrero (2014), while the implementation of ISO 9000 does not focus on human interactions, this situation does not stop organizations and managers from focusing on such associations, for instance, motivating employees, through the implementation of TQM tenets (Murmura & Bravi 2016). Since TQM is evidently more concerned about human factors while ISO 9000 emphasizes effective and comprehensive guidelines of a quality system, the components of the two systems interact and work closely together to attain the desirable success when it comes to competitiveness and customer satisfaction (Zárraga-Rodríguez et al. 2014). The two systems require the commitment of the leadership and management of the organization to succeed. According to Kammoun and Aouni (2013), the implementation of ISO 9000 is not a sufficient standard for a quality system since it does not assure quality products and customer contentment.

While there has been considerable research on whether the ISO 9000 can replace the need for the implementation of TQM, overwhelming support has shown that the two standard systems are complementary, and ISO 9000 is the starting step towards TQM. In fact, Raju and Baye (2015) regard ISO 9000 as the primary step towards a continuous improvement process that later advances the tenets of a TQM. In this case, ISO 9000 is not a replacement of TQM but a concept that sets the stage for the latter (Zárraga-Rodríguez et al. 2014). However, for ISO 9000 to be a bridge towards a continuous improvement process, it must be interpreted to encourage and support TQM.

The views show that ISO 9000 does not guarantee or have any impact on the quality management practices and results of businesses. The study by Raju and Baye (2015) that focused on the impact of ISO 9000 on TQM practices found that the organizations that have implemented the former had better outcomes and success once they began TQM. These results successfully indicate that ISO 9000 and TQM are complementary and that ISO 9000 cannot replace the need for TQM implementation.

In other words, the two standards should be implemented systematically in an organization to guarantee success and quality improvement of the processes and outcomes. In support of the above findings by Raju and Baye (2015), another study undertaken by Lakhal (2014) found that the majority of the organizations that seek to implement a quality management system prefer to start with ISO 9000 and then gradually adopt the TQM tenets.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Findings of the Literature Review

The literature review has effectively compared ISO 9000 and TQM regarding their fundamental tenets, as well as implementation in the organizational setting. Firstly, it is evident that while ISO 9000 concerns itself with process improvement, TQM is majorly people-focused, where it seeks to engage all individuals in establishing a quality system based on continuous process improvement (Terziovski & Guerrero 2014).

The strength of this tenet is that the two standards are distinct but seek to attain the same outcome in an organization, namely, quality management. One weakness of the literature, for instance, Delić et al.’s (2014) study that seeks to show how ISO 9000 covers some of the people-focused tenets such as leadership, is that it does not address whether organizations ever strive to interpret the various clauses in the manner that supports a human-focused approach.

On the other hand, while the literature shows that TQM and ISO 9000 are complementary, it does not tell whether the two can replace each other. Instead, the overwhelming evidence indicates that many organizations seek to implement both quality standards begin with ISO 9000 as a step stop towards TQM (Vilkas & Vaitkevicius 2013). This finding can be attributed to the fact that very few recent studies have focused on whether the two standards can replace each other. Overall, it is overwhelmingly evident that the ISO 9000 quality assurance standards cannot replace TQM in an organizational setting. Thus, there is the need for studies to be undertaken, with case studies on ISO 9000 and TQM implementation, to allow a critical and deeper analysis of whether a purely quality assurance system can effectively cover all the tenets of TQM while eliminating the need for the latter.


The implementation of ISO 9000 quality assurance standards TQM systems in organizations is widespread across the world. The research on the implementation of the two systems is growing, with much focus on the success of the standards in ensuring quality outcomes for organizations. The literature review has highlighted the similarities and differences between the two systems, where while ISO 9000 standards focus on line processes and customer satisfaction, TQM is broader and emphasizes all segments of the organizations and the contentment of all stakeholders.

The literature review has further revealed that due to their different areas of focus, the two quality standards are complementary, where ISO 9000 quality assurance standards are viewed as a stepping-stone towards a total quality management system. Consequently, ISO 9000 cannot replace the requirement for TQM implementation. Instead, they are harmonizing to the extent that organizations should seek to achieve better quality outcomes by putting in place the two systems.

Reference List

Delić, M, Radlovački, V, Kamberović, B, Maksimović, R & Pečujlija, M 2014, ‘Examining relationships between quality management and organizational performance in transitional economies’, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, vol. 25, vol. 3, pp. 367-382.

Fonseca, L 2015, ‘Relationship between ISO 9001 certification maturity and EFQM business excellence model results’, Quality Innovation Prosperity, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 85-102.

Kammoun, R & Aouni, B 2013, ‘ISO 9000 adoption in Tunisia: experiences of certified companies’, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 259-274.

Lakhal, L 2014, ‘The relationship between ISO 9000 certification, TQM practices, and organizational performance’, The Quality Management Journal, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 38-48.

Murmura, F & Bravi, L 2016, ‘Exploring customers’ perceptions about quality management systems: an empirical study in Italy’, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, vol. 1, no1, pp. 1-16.

Ng, S, Rungtusanatham, J, Zhao, X & Ivanova, A 2015, ‘TQM and environmental uncertainty levels: profiles, fit, and firm performance’, International Journal of Production Research, vol. 53, no. 14, pp. 4266-4286.

Raju, R & Baye, H 2015, ‘Impact of ISO 9000 certification on TQM practices: empirical study in Ethiopian manufacturing companies’, International Journal of Science and Research, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 805-811.

Terziovski, M & Guerrero, J 2014, ‘ISO 9000 quality system certification and its impact on product and process innovation performance’, International Journal of Production Economics, vol. 158, no. 1, pp. 197-207.

Vilkas, M & Vaitkevicius, S 2013, ‘Typological models of motives and effects of adoption of ISO 9000 series standards’, Engineering Economics, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 373-384.

Zárraga-Rodríguez, M, Suárez-Barraza, M, Jaca, C, Álvarez, M & Viles, E 2014, ‘Information capability under different quality management approaches’, GCG: Revista de Globalización, Competitividad & Gobernabilidad, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 33-44.

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