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Total Quality Through Six Sigma

Some argue that many of the tools Six Sigma uses are not new.  However, while Six Sigma uses conventional methods, its application is anything but conventional.  Instead it stresses the importance of searching for a new way of thinking and doing.  In fact, Six Sigma defines a clear road map to achieve Total Quality:

  1. Leadership Commitment: Top management not only initiates Six Sigma deployment, it also plays an active role in the whole deployment cycle. Six Sigma starts by providing senior leadership with training in the principles and tools it needs to direct the development of a management infrastructure to support Six Sigma. This involves reducing the levels of organizational hierarchy and removing procedural barriers to experimentation and change.

  2. Customer Focus: Systems are developed for establishing close communications with “external customers” (direct customers, end-users, suppliers, regulatory bodies, etc), and with internal customers (employees). From upstream suppliers to ultimate end-users, Six Sigma eliminates the opportunities for defects.

  3. Strategic Deployment: Six Sigma targets a small number of high-financial leveraged items. It focuses the company’s resources: right support, right people, right project, and right tools, on identifying and improving performance metrics that relate to bottom-line success.

  4. Integrated Infrastructure: The Leadership Team defines and reviews project progress. The Champion acts as a political leader and removes the barriers for the project team. The Master Black Belt acts as a technical coach and provides in-depth knowledge of quality tools. The Black Belt controls the project while the Green Belt supports the Black Belt - together they form the Six Sigma Project Teams. In addition, the incentive and recognition systems motivate the project teams to achieve the business goals.

  5. Disciplined Framework: Six Sigma projects are Implemented using the Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control disciplined road map. This MAIC discipline sets up a clear protocol to facilitate internal communication. In addition, from a business perspective, Six Sigma is also a framework for continuous business improvement.

  6. Education and Training: Six Sigma believes that true commitment is driven by true understanding. As a fact-based methodology, it intensively utilizes quality and statistical tools to transform a practical problem to a practical solution. Thus, a top-to-bottom training is conducted in Six Sigma philosophy and system improvement techniques for all levels.

In conclusion, Six Sigma’s approach and deployment makes it distinguishable from other quality initiatives. The Six Sigma approach involves the use of statistical tools within a structured methodology for gaining the knowledge needed to achieve better, faster, and less expensive products and services than the competition. The repeated, disciplined application of the master strategy on project after project, where the projects are selected based on key business objectives, is what drives dollars to the bottom line, resulting in impressive profits. Moreover, fueled by the bottom line improvement, top management will continuously be committed to this approach, the work culture will be constantly nurtured, customers will definitely be satisfied, and Total Quality will ultimately be achieved.

Six Sigma VS. Total Quality Management (TQM)

In some aspects of quality improvement, TQM and Six Sigma share the same philosophy of how to assist organizations to accomplish Total Quality. They both emphasize the importance of top-management support and leadership. Both approaches make it clear that continuous quality improvement is critical to long-term business success. However, why has the popularity of TQM waned while Six Sigma's popularity continues to grow in the past decade?

T. Pyzdek (Why Six Sigma is Not TQM, 2001) stated that the primary difference is management. Unlike TQM, Six Sigma was not developed by technicians who only dabbled in management and therefore produced only broad guidelines for management to follow. The Six Sigma way of implementation was created by some of America's most gifted CEOs - people like Motorola's Bob Galvin, Allied Signal's Larry Bossidy, and GE's Jack Welch. These people had a single goal in mind: making their businesses as successful as possible. Once they were convinced that tools and techniques of Six Sigma could help them do this, they developed a framework to make it happen.

The differences between TQM and Six Sigma are summarized in Table 7.1.

Table 7.1: TQM vs. Six Sigma

TQM Six Sigma
A functional specialty within the organization.
An infrastructure of dedicated change agents.  Focuses on cross-functional value delivery streams rather than functional division of labour.
Focuses on quality.
Focuses on strategic goals and applies them to cost, schedule and other key business metrics.
Motivated by quality idealism.
Driven by tangible benefit far a major stockholder group (customers, shareholders, and employees).
Loosely monitors progress toward goals.
Ensures that the investment produces the expected return.
People are engaged in routine duties (Planning, improvement, and control).
“Slack” resources are created to change key business processes and the organization itself.
Emphasizes problem solving.
Emphasizes breakthrough rates of
Focuses on standard performance, e.g. ISO 9000.
Focuses on world class performance, e.g., 3.4 PPM error rate.
Quality is a permanent, full-time job. Career path is in the quality profession.
Six Sigma job is temporary. Six Sigma is a stepping-stone; career path leads elsewhere.
Provides a vast set of tools and techniques with no clear framework for using them effectively.
Provides a selected subset of tools and techniques and a clearly defined framework for using them to achieve results (DMAIC).
Goals are developed by quality department based on quality criteria and the assumption that what is good for quality is good for the organization.
Goals flow down from customers and senior leadership's strategic objectives. Goals and metrics are reviewed at the enterprise level to assure that local sub-optimization does not occur.
Developed by technical personnel.
Developed by CEOs.
Focuses on long-term results. Expected payoff is not well-defined.
Six Sigma looks for a mix of short-term and long-term results, as dictated by business demands.


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