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Similarities and differences between TQM, six sigma and lean

Roy Andersson (School of Engineering, University College of Borås, Borås, Sweden)
Henrik Eriksson (School of Engineering, University College of Borås, Borås, Sweden)
Håkan Torstensson (School of Engineering, University College of Borås, Borås, Sweden)

The TQM Magazine

ISSN: 0954-478X

Article publication date: 1 May 2006




During the last decades, different quality management concepts, including total quality management (TQM), six sigma and lean, have been applied by many different organisations. Although much important work has been documented regarding TQM, six sigma and lean, a number of questions remain concerning the applicability of these concepts in various organisations and contexts. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to describe the similarities and differences between the concepts, including an evaluation and criticism of each concept.


Within a case study, a literature review and face‐to‐face interviews in typical TQM, six sigma and lean organisations have been carried out.


While TQM, six sigma and lean have many similarities, especially concerning origin, methodologies, tools and effects, they differ in some areas, in particular concerning the main theory, approach and the main criticism. The lean concept is slightly different from TQM and six sigma. However, there is a lot to gain if organisations are able to combine these three concepts, as they are complementary. Six sigma and lean are excellent road‐maps, which could be used one by one or combined, together with the values in TQM.


The paper provides guidance to organisations regarding the applicability and properties of quality concepts. Organisations need to work continuously with customer‐orientated activities in order to survive; irrespective of how these activities are labelled. The paper will also serve as a basis for further research in this area, focusing on practical experience of these concepts.



Andersson, R., Eriksson, H. and Torstensson, H. (2006), "Similarities and differences between TQM, six sigma and lean", The TQM Magazine, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 282-296.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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