What Is the Connection between Total Quality Management and Six Sigma?

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  • Written By: Jo Dunaway
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 12 May 2020
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Both Total Quality Management and Six Sigma® are quality improvement programs designed to reduce defects rates in manufacturing processes. Total Quality Management (TQM) was developed by a group of technicians and initiated in the 1950s. Characterized by the allocation of resources to independent quality management departments in business, TQM spread widely among corporations, helping to reduce defect rates and time and resource waste within production environments. Six Sigma® was developed in the 1980s by a group of corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) to broaden and sharpen the goals that TQM had set forth. In contrast to TQM, Six Sigma® takes the position that quality should not be a separate department within an organization, but an integral part of business practices.

Though TQM and Six Sigma® deliver defect rate reductions, they do so from differing motivating factors. The guidelines and philosophies developed by the technicians of TQM were vaguely defined in order to fit many business models, and they offered no clear endpoint strategy. Six Sigma®, on the other hand, capitalized on TQM successes at making the manufacturing process more efficient while recognizing the need to prioritize the strategic objectives of a corporation’s top officers. Six Sigma® sets goals for achievements within every department of a business, not just the production line, to meet corporate goals and to achieve growth driven by customer satisfaction ratings.

TQM and Six Sigma® share some methodologies, such as the use of standard statistics analysis and cost/benefit analysis. Six Sigma® uses only those analysis tools focused on individual project goals, though, and generally examines expenditures more closely to ensure that investments achieve projected returns. TQM seeks to ensure standard performance, according to industry-recognized ISO 9000 measurements; however, Six Sigma® attempts to raise expectations in order to push growth. The roles of individuals administering TQM and Six Sigma® programs also differ. TQM devotees generally pursue career positions within a quality assurance department, while a Six Sigma® leader only serves temporarily to ensure a department’s compliance and maximum achievement goals.

Notably, TQM prioritizes the development of a few discrete experts in quality management who can work almost like a neutral party to evaluate programs and processes within a business. In contrast, management involvement in Six Sigma® practices is required at all levels — from the top down — with leadership roles assigned in a hierarchical rankings. Executive leaders develop visions, allocate resources for new projects, and organize information flows and processes for production. Individuals in middle management implement careful monitoring of compliance to Six Sigma® standards, and coach or train subordinates in their methodology applications to their specific assigned projects. Although TQM and Six Sigma® both aim to achieve the same results, they operate within business environments in very different ways.

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