Quality management practice : universal or context dependent?; an empirical investigation.
Quality management has often been advocated as being universally applicable to
organisations and organisations activities. This universal stance is part of the
emergence of a new paradigm in Operations Management based on the
assumption that the adoption of best practice in a wide range of areas leads to
superior performance (the best practice paradigm). This is in contrast with the
manufacturing strategy contingency approach in which the field of Operations
Management has been strongly rooted from its inception, which advocates
internal and external consistency between manufacturing strategy choices (the
strategic choice paradigm). In addition, as quality management has matured,
more recent rigorous academic studies have raised doubts as to the universal
validity of its set of practices. Despite these tensions, there is still little
empirical research conducted in quality management aimed at shedding light on
the question: Are quality management practices contingent on a plant's
manufacturing strategy context? This study investigates this question by
examining, via case based research, the use of quality management practices
across plants representing a range of different strategic contexts in the UK
electronics industry. By selecting plants mature on quality from a single very
competitive industry and controlling for process technology, the study aimed to
isolate the effects of a plant's strategic context on quality management practice.
Overall, the results suggest that although a few practices seem to be universally
applicable, several others are strongly contingent on a plant's strategic context.
The study also identifies mechanisms by which a plant's strategic context affects
quality management practices. At a more general level, the study lends support
to the existence of links between a plant's manufacturing strategy and the pattern
of use of best practices. This finding is in agreement with the contingency view
of the strategic choice paradigm and in contrast with the universalistic approach
of the best practice paradigm.