What are Quality Circles?

Continuous Quality Improvement
Knowledge Center

Luis cupenala
CEO, South Africa

What are Quality Circles?

In short, a quality circle (QC) is a participatory group of employees, aimed at solving problems related to their own jobs. They are normally found in manufacturing environments.
Definition of quality circle:
In their book Japanese Quality Circles and Productivity, Joel E. Ross and William C. Ross define a quality circle as: "...a small group of employees doing similar or related work who meet regularly to identify, analyze, and solve product-quality and production problems and to improve general operations. The circle is a relatively autonomous unit (ideally about ten workers), usually led by a supervisor or a senior worker and organized as a work unit".
The 2 main strengths of quality circles are:
1. Participating employees can make better suggestions for improving work processes than managers
2. Employees are motivated by their participation
Thus, implemented correctly, quality circles can help reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve employee morale, leading to greater operational efficiency, reduced absenteeism, improved employee health and safety, and an overall better working climate.
Quality circles were first established in Japan in 1962 by Ishikawa at the Nippon Wireless and Telegraph Company. They are based on Deming's PDCA cycle, hence also the name 'quality circles'.
Formation of quality circles:
A quality circle typically starts as a volunteer group of employees under the leadership of the supervisor. Sometimes a team leader is elected. The group is trained to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management in order to improve the performance of the organization, and motivate and enrich the work of employees. After some time, true quality circles become self-managing, having gained the confidence of management.
Topics in quality circles:
Typical topics are improving occupational safety and health, improving product design, and improvement in the workplace and manufacturing processes.
Tools used in quality circles:
The main tools used in quality cycles are the Ishikawa Diagram, the Pareto Chart and Brainstorming. Brainstorm can be understood as a quality circle tool whereby members with diversified skills and knowledges from different functional or business areas interact diagnosing problems and provide alternative solutions. Such groups act as innovative teams with a common motivation and synergy that enables an organization to mantain continuously improving the level of quality of goods and services.

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