Quality management focuses on any number of strategies that promote improvement – from standards such as the ISO 9001 family to additional approaches such as Six Sigma. At a glance, these two strategies may look much alike, but a closer look reveals some similarities and differences. While one can’t really replace the other, and while each have their own place within an integrated system, it helps to get a better idea of how they compare so that you can see how well they work together.
How Do These Quality Management Tools Compare?
So just how do these quality management tools compare? Let’s take a look at some of the key focus areas of both tools, to see the similarities and differences.
- Process Approach
In terms of process approach, both ISO 9001 and Six Sigma put a strong focus on processes. Typically, the overall system is seem as a series of smaller, related processes with ISO 9001, with the focus on consistent, predictable results for each process within the system. For Six Sigma, individual processes can be improved and controlled using tools such as the SIPOC (Supplier, Inputs, Process, Output and Customers) diagram. This tool allows you to understand each process and how it works, in order to see how improvements affect the process.
Both of these systems focus on improvement, using various steps to achieve the cycle of effective improvement. In ISO 9001, there is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which focuses on how changes can be made to promote improvement, correct problems and work towards better quality management results. In Six Sigma, DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control) tools are used for improvement projects, and also to improve, optimise and stabilise current processes. In both systems, each part of the cycle is needed for success – skipping any part causes results to flounder.
Where these two systems differ is the scope. ISO 9001 is a globally recognised standard that is used in achieving standardisation within the business. It relates directly to quality measures, with everything from resource management, products, service, customers, documents, audits and many other facets. Six Sigma meanwhile is a set of tools that help to improve business processes – they are not meant to replace a proper quality system and there is no standardised approach that is recognised globally. At the end of the day, as you should be able to see, it should not be a case of choosing just one strategy, but more a case of thinking holistically and using both systems to bolster your quality management processes for real, sustainable change.