Comparing the quality management practices in UK SMEs

Maneesh Kumar (Strathclyde Institute for Operations Management, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)
Jiju Antony (Centre for Research in Six Sigma and Process Excellence (CRISSPE), Strathclyde Institute for Operations Management, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Industrial Management & Data Systems

ISSN: 0263-5577

Publication date: 31 October 2008



The last two decades have witnessed an explosion of research into the area of quality initiatives (QI) such as ISO, total quality management, lean, Kaizen and its application within small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs). However, very few empirical studies have reported the application of Six Sigma in SMEs; the reasons may be attributed to several myths associated with Six Sigma. The purpose of this paper is to assess the current status of QI in the UK manufacturing SMEs and report the differences in the quality management practices of Six Sigma SMEs against the ISO certified firms.


A survey‐based approach was adopted to understand the established quality management practices in the UK SMEs. A short survey instrument was designed by reviewing the literature on quality improvement initiatives in SMEs. A sample of 500 manufacturing SMEs across UK was selected through stratified random sampling technique.


A response rate of 12.7 per cent was achieved and included respondents at senior management and middle management level across the manufacturing industry in the UK. Data analysis on the history of quality initiatives (QI) in SMEs indicated towards the trend that ISO may be the foundation or building block before embarking on lean or Six Sigma. Differences in quality management practices such as customer focused measures and method of knowledge transfer to employees, were observed in Six Sigma and ISO certified SMEs. The main reasons cited for not implementing Six Sigma in SMEs were lack of knowledge or understanding of the system and limited resources. A significant difference in the performance of Six Sigma/lean firms against ISO certified companies were observed with respect to the strategic and operational measures of organizational performance.

Research limitations/implications

The limited response rate from the survey in the UK manufacturing SMEs will affect the generalizability of study to entire SME population. To negate the limitations of this study, a multiple multi‐level case studies will be conducted in SMEs in the next phase of doctoral research. Future study should focus on performing a global survey on quality management practices in SMEs.


The novelty of the paper lies in conducting a comparative study on the quality management practices in Six Sigma and non‐Six Sigma UK SMEs and measuring its impact on the performance of the firm. This study will facilitate in demystifying the myth that Six Sigma is only applicable in large organizations.



Kumar, M. and Antony, J. (2008), "Comparing the quality management practices in UK SMEs", Industrial Management & Data Systems, Vol. 108 No. 9, pp. 1153-1166.

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