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A quality circle is a volunteer group composed of workers (or even students), who do the same or similar work, usually under the leadership of their own supervisor (or an elected team leader), who meet regularly in paid time who are trained to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management and where possible implement the solutions themselves in order to improve the performance of the organization, and motivate and enrich the work of employees. When matured, true quality circles become self-managing, having gained the confidence of management.
Quality circles are an alternative to the rigid concept of division of labor, where workers operate in a more narrow scope and compartmentalized functions. Typical topics are improving occupational safety and health, improving product design, and improvement in the workplace and manufacturing processes. The term quality circles was defined by Professor Kaoru Ishikawa in a journal entitled [title needed]  and circulated throughout Japanese industry by JUSE in 1960. The first company in Japan to introduce Quality Circles was the Nippon Wireless and Telegraph Company in 1962. By the end of that year there were 36 companies registered with JUSE by 1978 the movement had grown to an estimated 1 million Circles involving some 10 million Japanese workers. Contrary to some people's opinion this movement had nothing whatever to do with Dr. Edwards Deming or indeed Dr Juran and both were skeptical as to whether it could be made to work in the USA or the West generally.
Quality circles are typically more formal groups. They meet regularly on company time and are trained by competent persons (usually designated as facilitators) who may be personnel and industrial relations specialists trained in human factors and the basic skills of problem identification, information gathering and analysis, basic statistics, and solution generation. Quality circles are generally free to select any topic they wish (other than those related to salary and terms and conditions of work, as there are other channels through which these issues are usually considered).
Quality circles were first established in Japan in 1962; Kaoru Ishikawa has been credited with their creation. The movement in Japan was coordinated by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). The first circles were established at the Nippon Wireless and Telegraph Company but then spread to more than 35 other companies in the first year. By 1978 it was claimed that there were more than one million quality circles involving some 10 million Japanese workers. They are now in most East Asian countries; it was recently claimed that there were more than 20 million quality circles in China.
Quality circles have been implemented even in educational sectors in India, and QCFI (Quality Circle Forum of India) is promoting such activities. However this was not successful in the United States, as it (was not properly understood and) turned out to be a fault-finding exercise although some circles do still exist. ref Don Dewar who together with Wayne Ryker and Jeff Beardsley first established them in 1972 at the Lockheed Space Missile Factory in California.
Empirical studies of quality circles
In a structures-fabrication and assembly plant in the south-eastern US, some quality circles (QCs)were established by the management (management-initiated); whereas others were formed based on requests of employees (self-initiated). Based on 47 QCs over a three-year period, research showed that management-initiated QCs have fewer members, solve more work-related QC problems, and solve their problems much faster than self-initiated QCS. However, the effect of QC initiation (management- vs. self-initiated) on problem-solving performance disappears after controlling QC size. A high attendance of QC meetings is related to lower number of projects completed and slow speed of performance in management-initiated QCS  QCs with high upper-management support (high attendance of QC meetings) solve significantly more problems than those without.  Active QCs had lower rate of problem-solving failure, higher attendance rate at QC meetings, and higher net savings of QC projects than inactive QCs. QC membership tends to decrease over the three-year period. Larger QCs have a better chance of survival than smaller QCs. A significant drop in QC membership is a precursor of QC failure. The sudden decline in QC membership represents the final and irreversible stage of the QC's demise. Attributions of quality circles' problem-solving failure vary across participants of QCs: Management, supporting staff, and QC members.
There are 7 basic quality improvement tools but as a Circle matures it can use others namely:
- The Ishikawa or fishbone diagram - which shows hierarchies of causes contributing to a problem
- The Pareto Chart - which analyses different causes by frequency to illustrate the vital cause,
- Process Mapping, Data gathering tools such as Check Sheets
- Graphical tools such as histograms, frequency diagrams, spot charts and pie charts
- Run Charts and Control Charts
- Scatter plots and Correlation Analysis
Student quality circles
Student quality circles work on the original philosophy of Total Quality Management. The idea of SQCs was presented by City Montessori School (CMS) Lucknow India at a conference in Hong Kong in October 1994. It was developed and mentored by duo engineers of Indian Railways PC Bihari and Swami Das in association with Principal Dr. Kamran of CMS Lucknow India. They were inspired and facilitated by Jagdish Gandhi, the founder of CMS after his visit to Japan where he learned about Kaizen. The world's first SQC was made in CMS Lucknow with then 13-year- old student, Ms. Sucheta Bihari as its leader. CMS conducts international conventions on student quality circles which it has repeated every 2 years to the present day. After seeing its utility, the visionary educationalists from many countries started these circles. The World Council for Total Quality & Excellence in Education was established in 1999 with its Corporate Office in Lucknow and head office at Singapore. It monitors and facilitates student quality circle activities to its member countries which are more than a dozen. SQCs are considered to be a co-curricular activity. They have been established in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Mauritius, Iran, UK (Kingston University and started in University of Leicester), and USA. In Nepal, Prof. Dinesh P. Chapagain has been promoting this innovative approach through QUEST-Nepal since 1999. He has written a book entitled "A Guide Book on Students' Quality Circle: An Approach to prepare Total Quality People", which is considered a standard guide to promote SQCs in academia for students' personality development.
- Gemba to QC
- Montana, Patrick J.; Bruce H. Charnov (2008). Management (4th ed.). Barron's. ISBN 978-0-7641-3931-4.
- Hutchins, David C. (1985). The Quality Circles Handbook. New York: Pitman Press. ISBN 978-0-89397-214-1.
- Hutchins, David C. (September 2008). Hoshin Kanri : the strategic approach to continuous improvement. Burlington, Vermont: Gower. ISBN 978-0-566-08740-0.
- Juran, Joseph M. (1992). Juran on quality by design : the new steps for planning quality into goods and services. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-916683-3.
- Hutchins, David C. (1999). Just In Time. Farnham, Surrey: Gower Publishing. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-566-07798-2.
- Tang, T. L. P., Tollison, P. S., & Whiteside, H. D. 1987. The effect of quality circle initiation on motivation to attend quality circle meetings and on task performance. Personnel Psychology, 40: 799-814.
- Tang, T. L. P., Tollison, P. S., & Whiteside, H. D. 1989. Quality circle productivity as related to upper-management attendance, circle initiation, and collar color. Journal of Management, 15: 101-113.
- Tang, T. L. P., Tollison, P. S., & Whiteside, H. D. 1991. Managers attendance and the effectiveness of small groups: The case of quality circles. Journal of Social Psychology, 131 (3): 335-344.
- Tang, T. L. P., & Tollison, P. S., & Whiteside, H. D. 1993. Differences between active and inactive quality circles in attendance and performance. Public Personnel Management, 22: 579-590.
- Tang, T. L. P., Tollison, P. S., & Whiteside, H. D. 1996. The case of active and inactive quality circles. Journal of Social Psychology, 136: 57-67.
- Tang, T. L. P., & Butler, E. A. 1997. Attributions of quality circles' problem-solving failure: Differences among management, supporting staff, and quality circle members. Public Personnel Management, 26: 203-225.
- Terra Stern, Change Management - Adopting A Continuous Improvement Program