Company-Wide Quality Management Systems – How Do They Differ?

Before discussing company-wide Quality Management systems, it is necessary to define the definition of Quality Management (QM). Many organizations and other groups of individual people have attempted to define QM. There are several different operational definitions of quality that are commonly used in many industries. The most common definition of QM is that, it is an integrated approach to achieve and sustain high quality output, focusing on the maintenance and continuous improvement of processes and defect prevention at all levels of the organization, in order to meet or exceed customer expectations. Quality management can be classified into two broad categories, industry-specific QM and non-industry specific QM. For example, some QM programs such as ISO 14000,AS9100, QS 9000, and TL 9000 are industry specific and others, including Lean management, Six Sigma, TQM, and ISO 9000:2000, are company-wide quality management programs. Our objective in this article is to compare the company-wide quality management systems, before comparing the systems, let me illustrate the high level view of the company-wide QM systems.

The Lean QM program mainly focuses on removing non-value-added activities from processes and services in an organization. Japanese engineers, primarily Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, developed an approach called the Toyota production system, which the Western world calls Lean management. The main components of the Lean quality management system are called the 5S system: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Similar to the principles of Lean management, Six Sigma has drawn intense interest from the business communities. It was developed by Motorola in the 1980s and was popularized by General Electric’s chief executive officer (CEO) Jack Welch and others in the 1990s. It is a data-driven approach for process improvement. Using statistical tools and mathematical modeling in Six Sigma, one can reduce the defect rate between 3.4 per million and 2 per billion. The framework, called DMAIC (define: define the scope of the problem, measure: collect the data to analyze the problem, analyze: determine the root cause, implement: implement the solution to the problem, and control: monitor and make it defect free), is the heart of Six Sigma.

Similar to Lean management and Six Sigma, a considerable number of companies have applied TQM, which is another quality management system and is the subject of many books and research papers. It is not a new concept, but it is an extension of a company-wide quality concept from Japan. Researchers have identified several definitions for TQM. The commonly known definition of TQM is that, it is an ongoing process whereby top management takes whatever steps necessary to enable everyone in the organization in the course of performing all duties to establish and achieve standards which meet or exceed the needs and expectations of their customers, both external and internal. TQM is a never-ending process to satisfy both the internal and the external customers and the customer focus in all activities in an organization. It uses statistical tools to make defect-free processes. The core ideas presented by Deming, Juran, Crosby, and Ishikawa are the key elements of TQM. ISO 9000 is another powerful QM system similar to Lean management, Six Sigma, and TQM which is designed for all industries worldwide to support continuous improvement. It is a set of international standards and guidelines developed by a technical committee composed of experts from business and other organizations around the world to promote QM in organizations. There are five ISO standards: ISO 9000, ISO 9001, ISO 9002, ISO 9003, and ISO 9004. ISO 9000:2000 is the most comprehensive and it provides a model for quality assurance in design, development, production, installation, and services.

I’m sure that, you can understand the high-level overview of company wide QM systems. Let us compare the systems now.

Lean Management focuses on process flow. It assumes that eliminating waste can improve performance. Commonly noted benefits of Lean are improving productivity; quality and flexibility. But the importance of using statistical analysis was not valued in Lean.

Six Sigma assumes that focusing on process performance can improve operational efficiency which can improve customer satisfaction. The assumption of this approach is that, variation exists in all processes and analyzing this variance can improve performance. There are two kinds of variation in any process. One is normal variation and other is abnormal variation. Six Sigma talk about normal variation but not abnormal variation. This is a common criticism of using Six Sigma.

Unlike Lean and Six Sigma, TQM focuses on all activities. This approach would assume quality is everyone’s responsibility. All employees in an organization should put their best efforts to improve the quality of their products. It focuses on long term results which require lot of co-ordination.

Finally ISO. It is a detailed document oriented approach for quality. It is a kind of inward looking approach. The factors affecting business such as environment analysis, market demands, and business demands are not considered.

Numerous surveys of the above mentioned QM programs have been conducted around the world since 1990. Each QM system begins its quality journey from a different perspective and drives toward the common goal of customer satisfaction. Some organizations integrate one quality system into other to get maximum benefits from the quality management programs. The important lesson for any organization to learn is that, by just picking up a company-wide QM system and starting to implement them will not bring fruitful results. Organizations should use Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to implement any QM system. Considering organizational needs; customizing QM program to meet the needs; conducting some sort of pilot testing to fine tune the approach before full-scale implementation would bring maximum benefits. But do not forget to fine tune the approach further by evaluating the results before standardizing your company specific company wide QM program.