Quality Circles – Definition, Structure and Implimentation

It is now an accepted fact that in today’s fiercely competitive world, individual efforts, however brilliant, cannot be a substitute for teamwork. Modern organizations have to heavily depend on various types of teams to be effective and efficient. Japan is a pioneer in this team concept and has shown the world how an innovative concept like “Quality Circles” draws involvement of employees at all levels in solving work related problems and achieve continuous improvement in every area of work. Japanese organizations give a very large credit to this concept for their undisputed world leadership in quality and productivity.

What is “Quality Circle”?

Quality Circle is a voluntary association of a group of persons working in same or similar type of job at the same work area who meet regularly one hour a week during their normal working time to discuss about their work related problems and arrive at a solution which can be implemented by them without additional cost or at a marginal cost. This group will ideally consists of 8 to 10 members but it should never be less than 5 or more than 15 in number because with less number of sufficient ideas may not come up and more number in depth discussion will not be possible. There is a strict discipline in both formation and working of the group.

Quality Circles in Management

Genesis of Quality Circles

During his visit to Japan in the year 1950, E.W. Deming first introduced Japanese Industry to ‘Statistical Quality Control (SQC)’ techniques. Japanese industry realized that only sustained efforts to employ SQC techniques to manufacturing operations would pave the way for revival of Japanese economy, which was devastated during the second world war. In order to popularize SQC, the Japanese Government passed a legislation, which allowed the use of ‘Engineering Standard’ mark on products to those organizations, which practiced the specified SQC techniques in their operations.

In 1954, Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), invited J.M. Juran, a world renowned expert in the field of Quality, to talk on ‘Quality Management’. Juran highlighted the need for looking at every function in the organization as a ‘Quality Function’, thus spreading quality across the entire organization. Japanese interpreted this concept even more broadly and felt the need for involvement of every individual in the organization in the quality improvement programs.

Dr. Korau Ishikawa, widely considered as father of ‘Quality Circles’, saw the potential of significant contribution from the large work-force to quality, productivity and other work related issues. In 1961, JUSE sponsored research work, which combined the theories of behavioral science to quality control concepts. Dr. Ishikawa led this research work. He formed the first Quality Circle in Nippon Telegraph and Cable Company in 1962. The concept caught on like wild fire and engulfed the entire Japanese industry within next few years.

Basic Concepts of Quality Circles

Quality circle is company-wide activity based on following concepts :

  • Obtain contribution of everyone to the improvement and development of the Company.
  • Develop respect for each other and build a congenial work place where people can enjoy their work.
  • Give full scope for use and development of human capabilities, which can open infinite possibilities for improved performance of the organization.

Human relations related ideals of Quality Circles.

  • Man is neither a mere commodity or a liability but has potential to become an asset for the Company by making his life target to contribute to Company’s progress.
  • Every person must strive continuously to improve his work and develop his capabilities.
  • Every person is unique and can contribute in his unique way.
  • There is more pleasure in working as a group rather than as an individual (This concept is known as “WA” in Japan).
  • Learning from each other can lead to the best and safe way to work.
  • A cheerful work place, where people enjoy their work will ultimately reduce the defect rate and improve productivity.

Structure for Quality Circle Activity

1. Top Management.

  • Visibly demonstrate its understanding, support and faith in Quality Circle activity.
  • Provide adequate budget for QC activity.
  • Institute an award system, which can motivate employees to voluntarily join the circles.
  • Promote healthy competition between circles.
  • Provide time to time inputs to eventually lead the activity towards self sustenance.
  • Attend Management presentations of Quality Circles.
  • Respond to the suggestions/recommendations made by QCs in prompt and positive manner.
  • Monitor the progress of the activity on regular basis.
  • Make QC activity review a mandatory point for the regular Management reviews.

2. Steering Committee.

This committee comprises of senior managers with executive powers and will have following functions to perform towards Quality Circle activity.

  • Give full support to the activity in their respective areas.
  • Develop working methodology and overall framework for QC activity.
  • Establish program objectives and requirement of resources.
  • Provide policy guidelines and directions.
  • Nominate coordinator and facilitators.
  • Attend Management presentations of QCs
  • Obtain feedback from the facilitator and act on his recommendations.
  • Decide on the rewards to QCs, based on their performance.
  • Continuously monitor the QC activity.

3. Coordinator.

Coordinator is a person appointed by the steering committee, who will coordinate the QC activity throughout the organization so that the activity runs in a smooth, effective and self-sustaining manner. He will have following functions to perform.

  • Registering all the Quality Circles in the organization.
  • Liasoning with facilitators for regular and timely meetings of the QCs and Management presentations.
  • Convening the steering committee meetings and circulate the minutes.
  • Organizing all documentation and publication of QC cases.
  • Giving all the assistance required by QCs.
  • Publishing news letter on QC activity.
  • Preparing training material and organizing training of facilitators and leaders
  • Keeping track of QC activity outside the organization and disseminating the relevant information within the organization
  • Creating awareness of QC activity at grass roots level in order to motivate employees at all levels to join the activity.
  • Organizing conventions on QCs.

4. Facilitator.

He is a senior officer of the department nominated by the Steering Committee to carry out following functions, which will help and consolidate the Quality Circle activities in his department.

  • Attending the Quality Circle meetings at least for a brief time.
  • Giving guidance to Circles for conducting the meetings as per laid down system and ensuring that proper records are maintained of each meeting.
  • Arranging for the necessary training to Circle members with the help of the Coordinator.
  • Providing the necessary facilities and resources to the Circles.
  • Arranging for any external help required by the Circles.
  • Resolving the problems faced by the Circles.
  • Acting as a link between Circles and the Management.
  • Collection and dissemination of information, publications, literature etc. related to Quality Circle activity.
  • Arranging periodic get-togethers of the Circle members with participation of Management personnel.
  • Cultivating and promoting participative culture within his department.

5. Leader.

A person chosen by the Circle members from amongst themselves. Leader can change by rotation. During starting phase of a Circle, a supervisor can be the Leader but eventually, any member can be nominated as a Leader by the Circle members. Functions of the Leader are:

  • Convening and conducting the Circle meetings as per the laid down schedule.
  • Maintaining all the documentation related to the Circle activities.
  • Arranging for the necessary training of the Circle members with the help of Facilitator.
  • Ensure involvement of every member.
  • Setting goals and reviewing progress during each meeting.
  • Drawing an action plan and delegate responsibilities to the Circle members.
  • Encouraging a consensus approach in problem solving.
  • Get external help as and when required with the help oh Facilitator.
  • Prepare for Management presentations.

6. Members.

Members are the basic and most important element of Quality Circles. They are mostly drawn from the work area where the Quality Circle is formed and continue to be members of the Circle as long as they are the part of that work area. Their functions are:

  • Be regular and punctual for the Quality Circle meetings.
  • Get conversant with various statistical tools recommended for problem solving.
  • Identify problems in the work area and put these forth for consideration in the Circle meeting.
  • Contribute ideas for problem solving.
  • Cooperate with other members and the leader to form a cohesive team.
  • Take part in Management presentations.

Implementation of Quality Circle activity

Introduction of Quality Circle activity must be preceded by implementation of Total Quality Control (TQC). This will help in developing management attitudes and practices oriented towards quality of processes and creating a culture conducive to defect free operations. Creation of a ‘Flexible workforce’ and implementation of Quality Circle activity can become complementary activities. Once a suitable atmosphere is created within the organization, following steps can be taken for implementation of Quality Circle activity.

  • Discussions between different layers of organizational structure wiz Top Management — Departmental Heads, Departmental Heads — Sectional heads, Sectional Heads — Supervisors, Supervisors — Operators about the concept of Quality Circle and its relevance to the organization.
  • Training programs for different levels to explain the basics of Quality Circles and the role each level is expected to play in the activity.
  • Gathering the feedback from participants on their views and inhibitions.
  • Clearing the doubts in everybody’s minds and make them receptive to the concept.
  • Form a Steering Committee to give overall direction to the effort.
  • Select a coordinator and entrust him with the job of working out a methodology, which is suitable for the organization for starting the activity.
  •  Select the departments where the pilot Quality Circles can be started.
  • Select the Facilitator and Leaders and train them to play their role effectively.
  • Motivate the members to join voluntarily and train them for their role.
  • Start the meetings of pilot Circles and closely follow their work.
  • Arrange for the Management presentations for the pilot Quality Circles and give wide publicity for their achievements.
  • Extend the activity to few more departments.
  • Keep on encouraging areas where the activity is not started by showing them the achievements of the working Quality Circles in other areas and the benefits and recognition they have received.

Management Presentation

This is the most vital part of the Quality Circle activity as it gives an opportunity to the Circle members to present the work they have done in identifying the problem in their work area and the systematic efforts they have put in to analyze the problem and find a solution for the same. As the Circle members get an opportunity to interact with the Top Management and get their approval for implementing the solution and also appreciation for their efforts, it acts as a strong motivating factor and helps in keeping the employee morale high. The presentations are done in a structured manner with the help of charts, graphs and using sophisticated audio/visual tools. Quality Circle activity cannot take roots and eventually sustain without the keen interest and continued support of the Top Management. Presence of Top Management at the Management presentations is the visible indication of this interest and support.

Quality Circle Training

Training for Quality Circle activity covers following aspects:

  1. Bringing in the awareness about “What is Quality Circle Activity?” and “How it can be beneficial to every participating individual as well as to the organization.?” This is necessary to overcome initial resistance to the new idea and prepare the the employees to voluntarily accept the change.
  2. Prepare every person involved in the Quality Circle activity to play his role effectively.

People are to be trained for specific roles and the specific training to be given to each level is given below.

Training for Members.

  • Introduction to Quality Circle activity and its benefits to the individual and to the organization.
  • Basic Statistical Quality Control tools.
  • Problem solving tools e.g. 7 step breakthrough sequence.
  • Brainstorming.
  • Record keeping and reporting.
  • Presentation skills.

Training for Leaders.

Training for Facilitator.

  • Quality Circles — Its genesis, concept and philosophy.
  • Roles of Facilitator and Leader.
  • Group dynamics.
  • Conflict resolution.
  • Proactive Management.
  • Likely problems in Quality Circle activity and their solutions.

Training for Coordinator and Top Management.

  • Role of Top Management in Quality Circle activity.
  • Empowering people.
  • Appraisal and reward systems.

External Links:

  • Background of Quality Circles (Inc.)

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