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Total Quality Management and Six Sigma


Quality is one of the priorities modern businesses concentrate on, trying to improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs at the same time. Total quality management (TQM) has been a framework for achieving this goal for decades, but new paradigms emerge and become widely utilized. The Six Sigma approach is one of the comparatively new models that was introduced in the 1980s and earned considerable popularity in the business world.1 It is noteworthy that the two frameworks are very similar but still bear some differences when it comes to core aspects. Due to these similarities, in some cultural contexts, TQM is regarded as a philosophy, while Six Sigma is seen as a methodology to implement TQM.2 Based on a brief analysis of TQM and Six Sigma, it is possible to assume that the latter will soon become the major quality management strategy.

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Core Concepts and Values

As mentioned above, both paradigms are concerned with quality improvement. However, the focus is rather on different aspects as TQM aims at improving processes leading to the establishment of specific standards and ensuring strict compliance.3 Managers concentrate on ensuring a specific level of quality related to a particular process or unit. The Six Sigma model is more specific as it targets defect detection and elimination (or dramatic minimization). The objective of this approach is to ensure no more than 3.14 defects on one million events or units.4 This quality management tool is regarded as statistics-based and more concrete compared to TQM.

As far as the values placed to the fore within the two approaches, similarities can be found in such areas as the focus on customer needs and cost reduction. Other domains that share a lot in common include leadership, employee engagement, and continuous learning. The use of both models is associated with the engagement of each employee and the lasting training and development.4 At the same time, the implementation of Six Sigma encompasses the same instruments, but more training is needed. The paradigm is supported by quite specific training courses that equip managers with specific skills needed to implement the model. TQM can be carried out with no specific training as no particular skills (statistical analysis skills, for instance) are needed.3, 4 Six Sigma model is also characterized by the use of statistical tools and clear quantifiable and measurable goals. This precision is not typical of TQM that is linked to principles and standards rather than numbers and figures.5 Hence, it is clear that the differences between the two quality management approaches are not numerous, but they are rather fundamental.


The methodologies utilized in terms of the two frameworks are similar as well but have several basic differences. When it comes to TQM, both quantitative and qualitative data are utilized, but the focus is on qualitative information.2 Managers try to identify the major areas of concern and develop standards that can ensure the highest quality in this specific domain. As mentioned above, the Six Sigma paradigm is characterized by the focus on statistical data and the development of clear steps to achieve particular measurable goals.

The cycles of the two models implementation are also different in certain details. TQM is associated with four stages that include establishing, doing, exploring, and acting.4 Managers identify issues and develop a policy that is further implemented and analyzed. Effective policies become a part of the existing standards that serve as the background of quality management. The developed policies and standards are often reviewed and explored on a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness and up-to-datedness.

The Six Sigma cycle contains five stages that may seem similar to the ones mentioned above but are characterized by important peculiarities. The five phases include defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling.4 Managers detect the defects to be eliminated or minimized at the first stage, and the measurement of initial performance takes place. After that, each component of the associated process is analyzed meticulously to identify the causes of the problem. When the cause of the error is identified, the ways to improve performance are developed. The final stage implies the creation of specific controls to ensure that the process is effective and the necessary measures and tools are employed.

Future Prospects of the Two Models

As seen from the conducted analysis, Six Sigma is more focused and measurable, which is now seen as an important or even critical feature. Nowadays, quality managers and executives are willing to receive quantifiable data to analyze and use to improve diverse processes and operations.3, 5 This trend suggests that Six Sigma can become a prevalent quality management tool in the near future. However, this model has certain limitations when used cross-culturally.6 The COVID pandemic unveiled the value of proper data management and reporting. Due to different statistical instruments and cultures, the Six Sigma approach can be less effective as the basis of the paradigm (data) can lack reliability and validity. Therefore, TQM may be more applicable in a cross-cultural context, at least, until the Six Sigma framework is further developed.

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In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the Six Sigma approach is likely to become the most widely used quality management framework due to its precision and a clear focus on measurable outcomes. This paradigm is instrumental in achieving the highest standards that are based on the analysis of operations and defects. At that, this model still needs further refinement, which is specifically evident in cross-cultural settings.


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Sreedharan VR, Sunder MV, Raju R. Critical success factors of TQM, Six Sigma, Lean and Lean Six Sigma. Benchmarking: An International Journal. 2018;25(9):3479-3504.

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