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Six Sigma and ISO 9000: How To Choose

Aug 17, 2007
Businesses that want to improve overall quality are often faced with the difficult task of selecting the most effective quality improvement technique from available options such as Six Sigma and ISO 9000. For selecting the most suitable technique, businesses will have to look at the merits of each of these techniques and determine their applicability in the context of existing business processes. This is necessary because there is a vast difference in the concepts of both the approaches, which need to be identified before selecting any one of the approaches.

The Six Sigma Approach

Six Sigma is basically a data-driven approach that aims at improving the quality of the output, which might be a product or service. For achieving this, Six Sigma mostly focuses on improving business processes by analyzing existing processes and identifying changes that could be made for improving quality and efficiency. Six Sigma helps in achieving desired results because it lays stress on the use of statistical tools and techniques that are based on sound logic rather than personal opinions or beliefs.

Six Sigma Process

For getting a fair idea about Six Sigma concepts, let us study the above statements in context of actual business processes. Most of the Six Sigma projects are quite huge, characterized by multiple goals and objectives. For successful implementation, Six Sigma Black Belts need to break up the project into smaller manageable projects, which can further be subdivided internally. This allows Black Belts to understand the intricate details of a specific process, which may not have been possible if the project was not divided into smaller projects.

By employing statistical tools and techniques at this stage, the Black Belts are able to take much better decisions regarding changes that can be made for improving quality. However, this is not the end of a Six Sigma implementation process as the process also has to ensure that the achieved quality standards are maintained. For maintaining quality standards, control systems are put in place that measure quality on a regular basis and report any deviations that might have occurred.

The ISO 9000 Approach

The ISO 9000 approach is different as it focuses on setting standards and adhering to the set standards. It does not lay stress on continuous quality improvements as in Six Sigma. Business processes of an ISO 9000 company are governed by the eight quality principles of ISO 9000 and have to adhere to 24 requirements, which are the same for any organization. ISO 9000 lays stress on controlling different aspects of a business process, which is achieved through documentation, evidences, and reports.

The most critical principles among the eight are associated with prioritizing customer data, purchasing, and managing quality systems. In ISO 9000, every process is treated as an independent entity, even if the end goal of two processes is the same. Based on predetermined quality standards, quality managers are able to decide whether a particular process has adhered to the set standards or not.

ISO 9000 process

The ISO 9000 process calls for adhering to certain set standards that have already been documented. It does not leave any scope for innovative changes that could be made for improving quality. The process focuses on "what should be done" rather than identifying improvement potential in a business process as in Six Sigma.

In spite of the differences, it is quite difficult to say which is the best quality improvement technique. Both the techniques have delivered desired results wherever they were successfully implemented, making it even more difficult to decide which is the best. Businesses can use any of these techniques as long as it helps them in increasing customer satisfaction, reducing operational costs and maximizing profits.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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