TQM vs. Six Sigma

Quality Expo, industry experts Gupta and Harrington went back and forth on the differences between TQM and six sigma. Who was the winner here? All of us.

Both methods bring value to the manufacturing process and process improvement.


TQM has grown into a philosophy over the past many decades. It has led to far superior products being produced today when compared to 50 years ago.

An outgrowth of “quality control” and “quality assurance,” TQM is a mindset that aims to delight customers by way of creating a culter where employees are empowered to do the right thing. In the automotive industry it has translated into quick build times, just in time (JIT) manufacturing and inventory methods and lean processes.

Much of the credit belongs to Japanese manufacturers who fully embraced lean manufacturing concepts. Perhaps most famous is the Toyota Production System, which set a new bar for quality.


Six Sigma works for organizations who are aiming for the top of their industry and is not for the light hearted. The required commitment is significant and piece-mealing a solution doesn’t work. Zero defects don’t come easy.

This goes beyond just innovating new processes. It is innovation on steroids and tying the results to economic metrics.

At the core, Six Sigma accomplishes:

1. Massive amounts of improvement, and
2. Improvements are achieved very quickly.

Cost of quality (COQ) is the metric for six sigma but how that metric is implemented varies across organizations. Six Sigma is about the numbers… more specifically, the money.

One of the biggest differences is that Six Sigma is bringing all parts of the organization to meet the goals and do so in a very rigid way.


At the core of the difference is the objective of each. TQM represent continuous improvement over time. Six Sigma is more of a cultural philosophy that aims to create improvement in a much more analytical approach that requires the vesting of the entire organization’s interests… which can be easier said than done.

TQM is the No. 1 approach for US manufacturers and core to aiming for the BIG quality prize… the Baldrige Award.