Continuous Improvement Tool: Quality Circle

Kaoru Ishikawa, a professor at Tokyo University, is attributed with much of the development of the idea of quality circles. It created great excitement in the West in the 1980s, at a time when every Japanese management technique was treated with great respect. A quality circle is a small group of between three and 12 people who do the same or similar work, voluntarily meeting together regularly for about one hour per week in paid time, usually under the leadership of their own supervisor, and trained to identify, analyze and solve some of the problems in their work, presenting solutions to management and, where possible, implementing solutions themselves.

Most people have the ability to tackle a wide range of problems at work in an imaginative and creative way. However, the ability of an average person at work is used partly. The QC concept assumes that once members are trained, they will be able to organize themselves to use their time effectively and there will be no need of outsiders to tell them what to do. If everyone is given a chance to use his/her talents to solve work related problems collectively, the results will be extremely positive. Problems at work place are best solved by the people most affected.

Ira B. Gregerman outlined a number of requirements for a business contemplating the use of quality circles. First, the business owner should be comfortable with a participative management approach. It is also important that the business have good, cooperative labor-management relations, as well as the support of middle managers for the quality circle program. The owner must be willing and able to commit the time and resources needed to train the employees who will participate in the program, particularly the quality circle leaders and facilitators. It may even be necessary to hire outside facilitators if the time and expertise does not exist in-house.

Some businesses may find it helpful to establish a steering committee to provide direction and guidance for quality circle activities. Even if all these requirements are met, the business will only benefit from quality circles if employee participation is voluntary, and if employees are allowed some input into the selection of problems to be addressed. Finally, the owner must allow time for the quality circles to begin achieving desired results; in some cases, it can take more than a year for expectations to be met.

Successful quality circles offer a wide variety of benefits for businesses. For example, they serve to increase management’s awareness of employee ideas, as well as employee awareness of the need for innovation within the company. Quality circles also serve to facilitate communication and increase commitment among both labor and management. In enhancing employee satisfaction through participation in decision-making, such initiatives may also improve business’s ability to recruit and retain qualified employees. In addition, many companies find that quality circles further teamwork and reduce employee resistance to change.

Reliable resources gathered from Asprova allows QC members to validate that the “problems” are indeed problems, select the priority problem, and again use the information to define the extent of that problem. Besides, our advanced planning and scheduling functions also facilitate QC members to devise solutions to such problems that will ultimately improve business’s overall competitiveness by reducing costs, improving quality, and promoting innovation.

Photo credits: flickr © 드림포유

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