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Looking at Lean Six Sigma vs. TQM

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/27/2013

This article discusses the relationship between Lean Six Sigma and TQM along with the types of projects where one may be a more viable Project Management Methodology.

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    picture Lean Six Sigma and TQM (Total Quality Management) are both methods for monitoring the quality of your products, processes, and services. TQM is aimed at overhauling the way that companies do things. Lean Six Sigma is aimed toward obtaining the fastest change possible in a company. While both methods aim at improving quality, there are important differences between them.

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    Lean Six Sigma

    Lean Six Sigma arose out of a combination of Six Sigma principles and Lean manufacturing methodology. The principles behind Lean Six Sigma include:

    • Customer-satisfaction-based initiatives for quality improvement
    • Specific metrics that drive decision making
    • Seeks to reduce variation that affects quality
    • Separates non-value work from value work - considering non-value work to be waste
    • Focuses upon speed
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    Total Quality Management (TQM)

    Total Quality Management gave birth to methodologies like Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. The process centers on quality and takes a customer-focused approach. While Lean Six Sigma focuses upon speed, metrics, and reducing variation, TQM focuses on the long haul of quality improvement.

    Features include:

    • Having a consistent, constant, and stated purpose behind improving quality
    • Reducing dependence upon inspections (Lean Six Sigma is very data-intensive)
    • Getting rid of fear and hierarchy in the company
    • Ensuring everyone in the company has undergone training and that they are working toward quality improvement
    • Ensuring that education is an on-going process
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    Which Method Is Best for You?

    If you work in a field that requires precision (i.e. healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, etc.) then Lean Six Sigma may have more benefits to you due to the dependency on data gathering and monitoring any variation that occurs. This can be a very productive way to ensure the quality of your services and products. Through using DMAIC (Decide, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) each change inducted into a process is carefully monitored.

    On the other hand, if your industry is more service-based or less precise, total quality management may work best for you in your situation. This means that you improve quality by having a purpose, erasing boundaries between divisions in the company, and ensure the training of every individual. Customer service might be an example where TQM is more appropriate than Lean Six Sigma.

    Both methods are extremely effective at improving the quality of goods and services - if carefully implemented and supervised by a project management team.


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