Purpose: Determination of the theoretical and philosophical foundations of quality management, as they have evolved and changed over time. Methodology/Approach: Conceptual and historical. Findings: At the origin of the quality movement, Shewhart defined quality through an account of production (later called value generation theory), and suggested the scientific model (later to be named as Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, PDCA) as the epistemology for improving quality. Somewhat later, Deming recommended ideas falling into process ontology as applicable in the quality context. These prescriptions were not presented in terms of theory, epistemology or ontology but through examples. Perhaps partly for that reason, in subsequent developments these prescriptions were often forgotten or rejected. Especially, the ISO standard for quality management rediscovered the original PDCA epistemology only in 2015. Thus, the degeneration of the original theoretical and philosophical foundation seems to be one of the longstanding problems in the area of quality. On the other hand, it has turned out that the value generation theory of production is a partial theory. As the success of the lean movement indicates, production should also be seen through the flow theory. The achievement of quality can, for its part, also be explained through this flow theory of production. However, there has been very little theoretical work both regarding production and quality, and thus the integration of theories on production has not been achieved. Lacking theoretical evolution is another long-standing problem that arguably has hindered the progress of quality. Research implication: The findings call for a sustained effort to explicate and develop the theoretical and philosophical foundation of quality management. Originality/Value of paper: It is widely perceived that quality as a managerial focus has lost its attraction in the last two decades. In this presentation, the argument that weaknesses of the theoretical and philosophical foundation of quality have contributed to this lack of attraction is forwarded.
Quality management, production, theory, ontology, epistemology.