The Six-Sigma and TQM as ‘Best Practice’ of High-Quality Products and Service

Subject: Strategic Management
Pages: 3
Words: 769
Reading time:
3 min

Total quality management and Six Sigma are aimed to introduce improvements and changes in production and service processes. In both cases, quality processes seek a compensation system that promotes flexibility in task assignment; concerns for quality, delivery reliability, cost control, and general customer satisfaction; acceptance of new technology; acceptance of group process and involvement in a group activity; commitment to continuous improvement; and so forth. In contrast to TQM, Six Sigma is a new approach based on continuous quality improvements and statistical methods of control.

TQM promotes narrow task specialization within fragmented job structures and hierarchical pay structures. It also establishes production standards for individuals or groups and enforces the standards by linking them to pay (incentive systems) or discipline (measured day work). The new management strategies based on Six Sigma have resulted in a reconceptualization of productivity and a rethinking of the relationship between productivity and quality. The new social relations of production emphasize group problem-solving with a serious attempt to extend worker concerns beyond the context of their immediate job and to tap the knowledge and creativity of workers in addressing broad organizational concerns. The new technology involves automated systems that are potentially both more highly integrated and more flexible. Computer systems that are vastly more powerful, more user friendly, more easily integrated, and less costly will result in the introduction of automated systems in lower volume, less standardized environments.

The difference between TQM and Six Sigma is their approach to quality and change process. Six Sigma aims to reduce number of defective items and spoilage. In contrast, TQM aims to adapt work to standards and requirements. Both the meaning of productivity and the means of attaining higher productivity levels change in the context of just-in-time manufacturing and total quality management. As simplification progresses, the complexity of remaining tasks is reduced, and it becomes easier and easier to imagine mechanized or automated systems capable of performing the operation.

TQM concentrates on individual operations while Six Sigma focuses on operations and production process in genera. Perhaps most fundamental is the assumption that efficiency of the production system is maximized when the individual efficiencies of its constituent operations are maximized. In other words, the factory will run most efficiently when all direct labor operations have been simplified, measured, and placed on standard. A second implicit assumption of classic Taylorism is that the problem of quality attainment is trivial. Through standardization and simplification of the operation a very high level of task specialization is attained. Performance of the specialized tasks requires neither complex thought nor complex manual skill, and hence the potential for error is minimized. In this environment management can concentrate on maximizing production and deal with quality after the fact as a secondary problem of production. The Six Sigma response concentrates on a macro or systems approach to productivity maximization in which the smooth flow of product through the system with minimum inventory buildup at all levels is emphasized.

The productivity problem is totally transformed under this formulation. Instead of a narrow focus on minimizing direct labor time for a given level of output, the systems approach minimizes the combination of all inputs (direct, indirect, and management labor; material, work-in-process, and final goods inventory; space; machinery and equipment, etc.) for a given level of output. Apparent inefficiencies in the use of an individual input can be tolerated if the inefficiency is part of an overall strategy of input minimization and system maximization. TQM expands on the Six Sigma approach and challenges the second assumption by locating quality in a central position in addressing the productivity issue.

TQM suggests that maximizing productivity and maximizing quality are not conflicting, but rather complementary goals. By preventing quality problems (“build it right the first time”) the maximum amount of quality output can be achieved for a given level of system inputs. TQM emphasizes decentralization of responsibility for quality throughout the organization, and perhaps especially to those who add value directly to the product. It stresses a preventive approach to quality management through techniques like statistical process control. It raises the goal of continuous improvement of the production system through group efforts at problem identification and problem-solving utilizing simple applied statistics and group process techniques. The philosophy and procedures of TQM make the same general demands on compensation systems as does the Six Sigma approach to manufacturing. In fact, TQM and Six Sigma are really part of a single management strategy in the sense that Six Sigma is impossible if quality is not assured as inventory is eliminated.