What are Quality Circles?

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Deming Cycle (PDSA) > Best Practices > What are Quality Circles?

What are Quality Circles?
Luis cupenala, CEO, South Africa, Premium Member
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.

Quality Circles Philosophy, Quality Improvement Teams
David Jean-Francois, Owner, France, Member
The background of QC - and a real choice for organizations - is to decide that good decisions can come "bottom-up"; from acting people.
Real innovation power is delegated to personnel, to solve their own problems, analysing causes, measuring their impact and trying to invent a solution.
An extension of QC are QIT (Quality Improvement Teams), able to do the same with people from different functions/departments, to solve certain "frontier" problems together.

Quality Circles based on Continuous Improvement
Md. Shahriar Hussain, Management Consultancy, Bangladesh, Member
QC encourages creativity of one's thought and intelligence. It is a Japanese management form or style and involves people of different level, irrespective of rank and status.
A unique feature is that it requires only small investment, but keeps the organization in a continuous improvement process (Kaizen).

Quality Circles should be used more Frequently
Dino, Student (University), United Kingdom, Member
In my opinion, many more organisations should implement quality circles. Even if the company does not engage in manufacturing. Because having decisions made from the bottom-up will always be more effective than the decisions made ad-hoc by top or senior management, who may have no idea of the processes/work involved at the operational level.

Quality Circles Require Preceeding Training
Bob Strasser, Canada, Member
The biggest mistake a company can make is starting QC's without adequate training.
Without training, it is better to put up a suggestion box.
Quality is a science. Remember the red ball experiment.

Quality Circles Education
David Jean-Francois, Owner, France, Member
@Bob Strasser: You're right. Education about methods is mandatory; otherwise there is a big risk of problem expression without the tools for problem analysis and for designing a solution...

Quality Circles Give Bottom-up Synergy
Homer Ferguson, United States, Member
@Dino: you and the other responders are spot on. To what you say I add only the synergy of teamwork. Most people believe that the Beatles were more than the sum of the whole when they were together.
Management simply adds to the cost of overhead while sapping efficiency when it fails to recognize, in humility, the value of the knowledge and ideas of the people who do the real work.

Quality Circles and Market, Suppliers and Enviroment
Antonio Cacheux, Member
The question is: what kind of impact does the QC produce on the market, not only inside organization? How does the QC affect our suppliers and perception from outside?
Quality circels are and have been a tool used with excellent results, however, most QC applications are limited to a part of the process, which is developed by coworkers that handle it and their team's leader.
I have been working with some applications of QC at the base of the process, taking it to the next higher level and then to the levels of main management. What has surprised me is that we found contraindications from basic-level decisions.

Quality Circles Can Have a Great Impact
Jack Birnbaum, Consultant, United States, Member
My first contact with quality circles was an introduction while attending Chaminade University of Honolulu in 1974-76, when I was completing final 2 years of my bachelor's while serving in the US army. I had a professor who was born in Japan. He introduced an early form of the process.
Years later, while in a management position in the US commercial airlines industry, I was selected by both company and union management to serve in a leadership role to start the QC-process.
Eighteen months later, 40 quality circles were each meeting one hour weekly.
It became an extremely valuable process, especially for the employees involved. One circle actually came up with one cost savings idea that saved the company $23M annually. Another example was a secretarial circle group came up with a cost savings recommendation that saved $500K annually.
It was a phenomenal process that I believe was an excellent quality improvement contributor from problem prevention, cost savings and innovative initiatives.

Quality Circles in Hotel Industry
Louis Norman COX, Management Coach, Consultant, Trainer, Mauritius, Member
I've been training and developing the QC philosophy and practice since 1979. We have called them:
- CTT (Creative Thinking Teams),
- WIT (Work Improvement Teams), or
- FIT (Fix It Teams).
My work is essentially in the hotel industry and engineering throughout the Indian Ocean islands.

Quality Circles in Education
Jerald, Manager, Member
It was nice to read valuable comments from various industries. I would like to share my experience during an MBA project to evaluate quality in education based on Deming's 14 principles.
I was astonished to observe the response from participating students and teaching staff on this subject. The analysis produced surprising results and two of them I would like to highlight here:
1. Tuition fees set by the institutions and the quality of education is not within acceptable limits.
2. Institutions require a process to identify the reasons for studentís performance failure against set standards.
I experienced that quality circles are really useful in the education industry to improve the overall quality.

Quality Circles for Employee Onboarding
Allemeersch, Interim Manager, Belgium, Member
Next to all input above, it is also a great tool to integrate new associates joining the company. It enhances the learning of the processes and products on their own level of language.
You should not underestimate the energy to keep QCs running. It needs continuous attention from management. Training is certainly one of them. We had also a QC contest, where people could proudly present their work. On these occasions, we involved suppliers as well as customers.

Quality Circles in NGOs
Toperesu, Manager, Zimbabwe, Member
I found QC being a useful tool that can also be used in improving performance and impact of Non-Governmental Organizations, where there is a need for innovative approaches coming from the people on the ground. For example to effectively respond to issues of food security, climate change, etc.

A Disadvantage of Quality Circles
EFFIONG, Student (MBA), Nigeria, Member
The QC is indeed a very important management tool, as it helps the employee to make relevant contributions towards the attainment of an organisation's objectives.
However, sufficient training is required for the employee, so as not to have a group of employee teaming up against the management of the the organisation.

Everything about Quality Circles is Here...
iranna, Manager, India, Member
Nice details available on this super-site, got detailed advantages of QC circles...

Quality Circles Concept in Gold Mining
kwapong, Manager, Ghana, Member
The concept is a very effective tool for ensuring continuous improvement in product quality and cost of production. It was effectively used in the late 1990s by Ashanti Goldfields Limited (now Anglogold Ashanti - Ghana) in controlling the cost of producing an ounce of gold at a time when gold price was falling very fast on the international market.
Team members were selected across departments and disciplines for the stated purpose.

QC Powerful if Tooled Well
Douwe Slot, Management Consultant, Netherlands, Member
Valuable article and discussion! If the QC is used in parallel with production/delivery processtools, the cost effectiveness increases. Strasser and David are correct that training to use tools properly is essential. More tools than indicated in the article will apply in many cases. I experienced additional gains by involving customers.

The Power of Quality Circles in Companies
Having had the opportunity to participate in quality circles and to implement them, I can guarantee you that the importance of quality circles goes beyond what we think when we get into quality circles. For many reasons:
- People feel involved in the management of the company and feel responsible for the survival of the company
- Members through the resolutions of problems improved their value added in production and also improve their knowledge
- Team spirit is greatly improved after a couple of problems are solved
- Members in order to help found solutions, self-perform for more effective participation in the activities of the circle.

More Information on Implementing Quality Circles in School
Rakhi Mukherjee, Teacher, India, Member
Dear Sir, I am a School Principal and would want to introduce quality circles in my school. I need concrete examples to get it implemented. I believe the subject heads of the departments could be involved. Thanks.

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