QiSOFT Blog - How did we get here?

1 March, 2021

Modern quality management: How did we get here?

In the world of quality, the battle for supremacy between Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM) has been raging for many years.

In any discussion about quality, it’s always worth looking at the history a little. “What is past is prologue,” and that’s certainly true when looking at quality management.

What is TQM?

TQM originated from the work of W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s. Deming was an American statistician who was posted to Japan to help the Allied Powers organize the census of 1951. At that time, the US manufacturing sector was booming and couldn’t see any benefit in adopting Deming’s ideas for quality management, so they were largely ignored. 

Conversely, the Japanese manufacturing sector was suffering from poor quality and couldn’t afford high scrap rates. The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers recognized his expertise in quality control techniques and asked him to teach them about statistical control.

In three months, Deming trained and taught hundreds of Japanese engineers in statistical process control and is considered by many to be a primary reason for Japan’s economic resurgence in the 1950s. Japan became the second-largest economy in the world, which made the US take note of why? The answer was their use of the philosophy that became known as TQM – taking a company-wide approach to quality.

By the late 1970s, US companies were desperate to understand their new Japanese competition’s success, and Deming became a popular speaker. Ford was one of the first to embrace his methods and implement a quality culture. By the mid-1980’s they had moved from a massive loss-making position to the most profitable US automotive company.

TQM uses Statistical Quality Control at its core. But it also adds a management philosophy for the whole company. The core principles of TQM are:

- Customer focus
- Total employee involvement
- Process-centred
- Integrated system
- A strategic and systemic approach
- Continuous improvement
- Fact-based decision making
- Communications

Without going into great detail on each one, these eight principles show how TQM involves everyone in the company, with the customer dictating the measure of success. Implementing TQM creates a cultural change in the organization and places a focus on collaboration between departments. But the quality improvements are ultimately measured on the adherence to internal requirements. A such, it is possible to reach a point where no further quality improvements can be made.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma uses a purely statistical approach to reducing defects. While TQM defines quality as a measure against the customer’s requirements, Six Sigma measures the defects in terms of parts per million.

Although the concept of a normal curve dates back a couple of hundred years, in the 1920s, Walter Shewhart demonstrated how three Sigma was the point at which a process needed correcting.

In the late 1970s, Motorola engineer Dr. Mikel Harry started looking at using statistical analysis as a problem-solving tool, and the term Six Sigma was used for the first time. It was attributed to another Motorola engineer – Bill Smith – but Six Sigma is a trademarked Motorola term.

The Six Sigma methodology expresses quality as defects in parts per million. To achieve Six Sigma, a company must reduce its defects to 3.4 per million (99.99966% yield). As such, it is an incredibly tough standard to reach. And that’s the point. A Six Sigma approach is a strive for the highest achievable level of quality. The sigma levels are defined as:

One of the main differences between Six Sigma and TQM is the end result. In a TQM approach, the end financial benefit is unknown at the start, whereas a Six Sigma approach requires strict definitions. Six Sigma uses DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control), which creates a clearly defined structure for the project.

The Competitive Advantages of Quality

Companies will benefit from any kind of quality improvement initiative. That much is clear to see. Streamlining manufacturing processes and reducing the cost of poor quality will have an enormous impact however they are achieved.

Buyer and Customer Confidence

Whether customers are other businesses or private consumers, all customers want the products they buy to be reliable and consistent. In the digital world, customers want their products now, and they’d better be correct.

It was only a few years ago that online ordering was a novelty. Customers were more tolerant and forgiving because it was all new. If it was going to take 1-2 weeks for delivery, that was fine. When the order was delivered, if it was wrong or damaged, it was annoying, but people understood those things happened from time to time.

The modern buyer is now an unforgiving beast. They expect next-day delivery and perfect quality, every time.

In that context, while both TQM and Six Sigma will produce results, a Six Sigma approach will deliver the near-perfect levels required.


Quality initiatives like TQM and Six Sigma will both deliver bottom-line improvements. Clearly, companies benefiting from quality improvements can pass on the savings to their customers in terms of price reduction.

But it’s not only that companies can offer lower prices; it’s the higher quality product they can offer at a lower price that gives them the advantage.

Customer Service

Customer service is a crucial metric for every business. Response times, lead times, and delivery times are all measures that companies focus on improving. A Six Sigma approach to customer service will mean that certain factors have to be identified, which are critical to customer satisfaction. Six Sigma tools like root cause analysis will pinpoint areas for improvement and deliver a near-perfect result for the customer.

How does QIS help?

As you can see, TQM had its place in the annals of quality management, but the evolution of other methodologies like Six Sigma and Lean now give the highest levels of quality for the modern manufacturer.

The key to success is real-time data. Collecting accurate data which can be turned into actionable information is vital for a high-level quality management system. There are other software packages available that provide off-line data, after the fact. But, let’s face it, studying data from yesterday or last week’s production isn’t in keeping with the “immediate-delivery” world we live in today.

An Industry 4.0 (and Industry 5.0) style manufacturing system demands continuous feedback loops between data collection and process adjustment. QIS is designed to provide that live, real-time data.

Our QIS software provides the link from the operator to the quality team, then back to the operator to make corrections to the process. All of your independent, data-generating systems can be centralized to give immediate control of your processes, and long-term decision making.

For more information, contact one of our team to discuss your manufacturing operation and how QIS can benefit your organization.

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Reduction in waste, downgrade and rework
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Reduction in the cost of internal and external failure


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