Critical success factors for TQM implementation among manufacturing SMEs: Evidence from Japan

Svetoslav Georgiev*, Seiichi Ohtaki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to address a perennial question regarding the importance of soft total quality management (TQM) as part of the TQM implementation process – a topic that has been significantly understudied. Specifically, the authors address previous calls in the literature for stressing the soft aspects of TQM and for drawing a critical success factor (CSF) list that is formulated on the basis of empirical research instead of theory. Design/methodology/approach: This is a comparative qualitative case study of three manufacturing SMEs combining empirical data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a large variety of stakeholders – from top managers to shop-floor workers, site visits and observations. Findings: The study identifies 12 soft CSFs, and while most of these factors have been well-documented in the literature (e.g. top management involvement and leadership), the authors show evidence for the existence of other soft constructs that have not been considered or have been given little importance previously (i.e. middle management involvement and support, reward and recognition, CSR focus). Research limitations/implications: The study fills two major gaps in the (T)QM literature. First, it enriches the understanding of TQM implementation among Japanese SMEs. Second, it addresses the importance of soft TQM as part of the TQM implementation process. Practical implications: This paper provides company owners and managers with valuable knowledge that may assist their organisations in the pursuit of business excellence including higher product quality and employee satisfaction. Originality/value: To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first (international) study to investigate TQM implementation within the context of Japanese SMEs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-498
Number of pages26
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Critical success factors
  • Japan
  • Small-to-medium-sized enterprises
  • Total quality management


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