Adoption of quality management in SMEs

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: Since its dawn several decades ago, quality management (QM) has become established as a concept for improving organisations. It is often manifested in companies today in various initiatives, such as “lean”, “Six Sigma” or “the Company Production System”. However, adoptions of QM are scarce in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Historically, some research has considered QM as universally applicable. This thesis demonstrates how characteristics of individual organisations, and different parts of QM adoption processes, influence what practices that are favourably applicable in SMEs. Furthermore, because of resource and competence scarcity, external interventions have been suggested as being valuable for supporting the adoption processes of QM in SMEs. The purpose of this thesis is to identify critical factors of, and functions of external interventions in, QM adoption in SMEs. The results of the thesis are based on six research papers: one literature review, three company cases and two external intervention programme cases. These studies have helped identify a number of important stages of the QM adoption process: awareness and need, competence, adaptation, implementation, study, and action. Importantly, adoption processes should be viewed as complex and iterative in nature. In order to understand adoption processes, it is critical to recognise them as non-linear, and that they are not exclusively progressing but may also regress. These findings are further synthesised into a model that may provide practical guidance and inspiration for planning an adoption, as well as structure for analysing adoption processes. Six categories of factors are identified as critical for adoption: gradual implementation using realistic goals, involvement and training of employees, involvement of external support, management involvement, and fact-based follow-up. Perhaps the most common characteristic of the SME context seems to be the need for external support, as many SMEs demonstrate a scarcity with resources, both financial and competence in adopting QM. It is also noted that publically financed improvement programmes can support in these regards, as well as in ensuring structure, and long-term planning.