A quality circle is a group of workers who do the same or similar work, who meet regularly to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems. Normally small in size, the group is usually led by a supervisor or manager and presents its solutions to management; where possible, workers implement the solutions themselves in order to improve the performance of the organization and motivate employees. Quality circles were at their most popular during the 1980s, but continue to exist in the form of Kaizen groups and similar worker participation schemes.
Typical topics for the attention of quality circles are improving occupational safety and health, improving product design, and improvement in the workplace and manufacturing processes. The term quality circles was most accessibly defined by Professor Kaoru Ishikawa in his 1988 handbook, "What is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way" and circulated throughout Japanese industry by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (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. W. 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 seven basic quality improvement tools that circles use:
- Cause-and-effect diagrams (sometimes called Ishikawa or "fishbone" diagrams)
- Pareto charts
- 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 two 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, who founded 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 Sucheta Bihari as its leader. CMS has continued to conduct international conventions on student quality circles every two years. After seeing its utility, educators from many countries started such circles. The World Council for Total Quality & Excellence in Education was established in 1999 with its Corporate Office in Lucknow and head office in Singapore. It monitors and facilitates student quality circle activities in its member countries, which number more than a dozen. SQC's 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 the 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 SQC's in academia for students' personality development.
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