This paper examines 'best practice' implementation of total quality management (TQM) in eight Australian manufacturing and service organizations. Multiple cross-case analysis is used to synthesize the information obtained from the case studies. The insights gained from the case studies are used to discuss the critical success factors (CSFs) that characterize Australian quality organizations and the essential steps in implementing TQM. Leadership and quality-based vision of world-class performance has emerged as major factors that underpin best practice in TQM implementation. Participation by employees and unions in the development of an organization's vision was seen as critical in gaining high-level commitment to the organization 's goals. Other CSFs include: the identification of customer expectations and measurement of perceptions; clearly defined, and agreed by all, strategy for implementation; establishment of a formal structure for controlling, monitoring and reporting improvement initiatives; implementation of cross-functional improvement teams and natural work teams; and the implementation of a formal quality assurance system. In the majority of cases, we found that implementation of TQM was a difficult process that required on-going commitment from the 'top floor'and the 'shop floor'.