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May 31, 2011

Six Sigma vs Total Quality Management

Six Sigma is not just a new term for Total Quality Management (TQM) . They have many similarities and are compatible in many business environments. TQM has brought great improvements and value to many companies. Six Sigma can do more.

TQM is the development, deployment, and maintenance of systems related to quality-producing business processes. TQM is a strategic approach that focuses on encouraging a continuous flow of incremental quality improvements. It encourages the establishing of a culture of collaboration among different departments within organization. TQM is mainly a cultural initiative and a style of management toward increased quality.

Six Sigma is not just another quality initiative or process improvement program. It is more than that because it is a robust continuous improvement strategy and process that includes cultural methodologies such as the various TQM approaches. Six Sigma is complementary to TQM initiatives such as ISO 9000 registration, which is mainly procedural; Total Quality Management (TQM), which is mainly cultural, and Statistical Process Control (SPC), which is primarily statistical process control monitoring. All of these initiatives attempt to improve quality levels but typically reach a plateau. The Six Sigma approach goes to the next level.

Six Sigma is not about quality in the strict traditional sense. Quality, defined traditionally as conformance to internal requirements, is not the focus of Six Sigma. True, Six Sigma focuses on improving quality by helping organizations produce products and services better, faster and cheaper. However, it accomplishes that by reducing waste. In traditional terms, Six Sigma focuses on defect prevention, cycle time reduction, and cost savings. Six Sigma is about helping the organization make more money. Unlike cost-cutting programs that reduce value and quality, Six Sigma identifies and eliminates costs that provide no value to customers: the costs incurred due to waste.

The focus of TQM initiatives differs from the focus of Six Sigma programs. One, TQM programs focus on improvement in individual operations with unrelated processes. Six Sigma focuses on making improvements in all operations within a process. Two, Six Sigma involves dedicated, full-time resources—the “black belts”­ —versus TQM, which is usually a part-time activity of non-dedicated managers.

The breadth and depth and the precision of Six Sigma and TQM also differ. Six Sigma has a well-defined project charter that outlines the scope of a project, financial targets, anticipated benefits, milestones, etc. It's based on hard financial data and savings. In TQM, organizations go into a project without fully knowing what the financial gains might be. Six Sigma has a solid control phase (DMAIC – Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) that makes specific measurements, identifies specific problems, and provides specific solutions that can be measured.

How else is Six Sigma different? Six Sigma is:

* Fact based and data driven

* Results-oriented, providing quantifiable and measurable bottom-line results

* A leader-sponsored top-down approach

* Linked to strategy

* Thinking about customer requirements

* Applicable to all business processes - administrative, sales, marketing, R&D, etc.

Six Sigma is a robust continuous improvement strategy and process that includes cultural methodologies such as Total Quality Management (TQM), process control strategies such as Statistical Process Control (SPC) and other important statistical tools. Six Sigma tools and techniques all are found in total quality management. Six Sigma is the application of the tools on selected important projects at the appropriate time. Six Sigma tools and techniques all are found in TQM. When done correctly, Six Sigma becomes a way toward organization and cultural development. Yet, it is more than a set of tools! Six Sigma is the strategic and systematic application of the tools on targeted important projects at the appropriate time. Because Six Sigma incorporates TQM but goes beyond it, it will outlast TQM.