Quality Circles – An Effective Tool for Management
Quality Circle – An Effective Tool for Management
Quality circle (QC) also sometimes being called ‘quality control circle’ considers employees as the greatest assets of the organization. This is because through the employees all other resources are converted into products. QC is a people building concept which is based on the proposition that employees doing their jobs are experts in their field of activity and thus are in a better position to identify, analyze, and resolve the work related issues through the innovative and unique ideas. In reality, QC is a practical application of McGregor’s theory ‘Y’ which says that people enjoy and take pride in their work if they are given the right environment and the decision making power. This in turn leads to enrichment of their work life.
In simplest term, QC causes a situation where management backs and gives the employees the suitable training and the time to help solve the work related problems. As the employees resolve problems, management gains a new respect for their capabilities, and as their suggestions are acted upon, the employees can see their influence on the work process, which gives a real basis for job satisfaction and new attitudes.
Participation in decision making process which affects the employees’ work life is one of the keys to making the goals of the organization congruent with the goals of the employees. Both the organization and the employees can benefit from participative management since the management does not possess the expertise which the employees have, and vice versa, but together they can make the best decisions for all concerned. Management can provide this type of environment through quality circles.
Quality circle involves employees in solving problems and taps their knowledge effectively. Employees and their knowledge are the most precious resource for the organization. QC makes use of the hands and minds of the employees who are working in the organization. It provides a future-oriented approach. It seeks improvements in the performance, efficiency, and the product quality presently being achieved during the current production run for the performance in future. For this purpose, QC brings the employees to come together voluntarily and contribute to the progress of the organization.
Quality circle is an employee involvement and team-building process for solving workplace problems and improving the performance of the organization through improvements in the workplace. It is closely related to the topics of ‘quality of work life’ and ‘participative management’ and lead to comprehensive employees’ development through group dynamics. QC operates on the principle that employees’ participation in decision making and problem solving improves the production methods and the quality.
Quality circle is a small group of frontline employees from a common work area who meet voluntarily on a regular basis to identify work-related problems, analyze the problems, develop solutions to the problems, and implement the solutions. Through QC, employees try to improve the quality of their work. Normally, the employees’ approach is problem-based. They identify problems in the workplace, which are normally referred to as ‘themes’, and together they set about finding a solution. They use QC concepts and techniques, and try to be creative in seeking solutions. Broadly, their plan is to continually improve and maintain the quality, and to constantly strive towards self-development and group development. Through the QC activities, the employees develop quality consciousness, problem consciousness, a willingness to make improvements, and a sense of quality management.
Quality circles dates back to 1950s when they were first seen in the United States. Dr. Deming had stated that the quality circles are to be recognized as a change in management style to bring about a productive atmosphere.
The quality circles owe their origin to Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, a Japanese scientist, who conceptualized and implemented quality circles for improving productivity in Japan. QCs were seriously developed and implemented in Japan in early 1960s. In 1962, the first three quality circles were registered with JUSE (the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers), and today one in every eight workers in Japan belong to quality circles totalling over one million registered and many yet unregistered quality circles, and many thousands exist in other countries. Quality circles were re-exported to USA in the early 1970s.
In 1977, JF Beardsley and DL Dewar founded the International Association of Quality Circles (IAQC) to provide the centralized leadership necessary to promote QC programs, particularly concentrating on the growth of the QC concept.
With the successful execution of quality circles in Japan and USA, many other countries also adopted QCs as a tool to improve their quality of work life. Now several countries of the world have accepted quality circles as a very effective instrument for improving the total performance of the organization.
Concept of quality circle
The theoretical basis of the QC concept is seated in the rationale that quality circles are assumed to function best in organizations where participative management style is present and where mutual loyalty and respect exist between the employees and management.
The characteristics of QC are that they consist of volunteers who set their own rules and priorities, take decisions by consensus and use organized approaches to problem solving. However, QC activities are not to be in the direction of fault finding. When matured, QCs become self managing, and gain the confidence of management. They not only enable the enrichment of the lives of the employees but also create harmony and high performance. Typical work related issues are improvements in occupational health and safety, product design, manufacturing processes, and improvement in the workplace.
Quality circle proponents suggest that there are several reasons why some quality circles are doing better than others. Normally, the reasons can be traced to inadequate management perspective, implementation problems, QC leaders, members’ participation, and inadequate training. If one factor of successful QC activities needs to be pointed out, it is the leadership exercised by QC leaders. A successful QC leader steers and encourages discussions among QC members. Unless the leader knows where he is going, most likely his QC members cannot know where they are going either. That is where the need for a strong leader training program is necessary.
Objectives of a quality circle
The perception of quality circles is ‘appropriateness for use’ and the tactic implemented is to avert imperfection in services rather than their verification and elimination later. Quality circle is not a task force because it can be made a permanent feature of the organization.
The important objectives of a quality circle can be broadly characterized as (i) to develop, enhance, and utilize human resource of the organization effectively, (ii) to improve quality of products / services, productivity, and reduce cost of production per unit of output, (iii) to satisfy the employees’ psychological needs for self-urge, participation, recognition etc., with a view to motivate them which in turn ensures enhancement of employees’ morale and commitment, (iv) to improve different supervisory skills like leadership, problem solving techniques, and inter-personal and conflict resolution, (v) to utilize individual imaginative, creative, and innovative skills through participation, creating and developing work interest, including problem solving techniques etc., (vi) to make use of the knowledge and skills of the employees, (vii) to develop good relations between employees and managers and create cordial industrial relations.
Further to the above objectives, QC (i) contributes actively towards the improvement and development of the organization, (ii) exists within the prevailing organizational structure to overcome the barriers so as to foster an open exchange of ideas, (iii) develops a positive attitude and a feeling of a sense of involvement in the decision making process amongst the employees, (iv) helps employees to respect humanity and to build a happy workplace which is worthwhile to work, (v) displays human capabilities completely and draws out the numerous possibilities in a long run, (vi) improves the quality of products and services, (vii) improves different competencies, which is also normally the goal of the organizations, (viii) reduce the cost and the wasteful efforts in the long run, (ix) improves efficiencies which in turn reduce the lead time resulting in an improvement in meeting customers due dates, (x) helps achieving customer satisfaction which is the fundamental goal of the organization, and (xi) helps the organization to be competitive for a long period.
Quality circle basically consists of a formal, institutionalized mechanism for productive and participative problem solving interaction among the employees of the organization. It is made of a group of employees who perform similar tasks or share an area of responsibility. The basic structure of a QC Includes six to twelve employees who voluntarily meet for around an hour normally once a week and normally under the leadership of the group leader. A facilitator facilitates the QC activities. However, this basic structure is flexible with the employees deciding their own specific structure. The characteristics of quality circles are that they consist of volunteers who set their own rules and priorities, take decisions by consensus, and use organized approaches to problem solving. This freedom is intended to compliment the people oriented philosophy which is the core of the QC concept. The mechanism of the quality circles is explained in the Fig 1.
Fig 1 Mechanism of quality circles
The concept of the structure of a quality circle is shown in Fig 2 which also the structure of the QC. The structure of the QC consists of several components namely (i) coordinating agency, (ii) steering committee, (iii) department committee, (iv) facilitator, (v) leader, (vi) deputy leader, (vii) member, and (viii) non-member.
The organizational management plays an important role in ensuring the success of implementation of quality circles in the organization. Steering committees consisting of middle management are also to play a positive role in quality circle activities for its success. Coordinating agency has responsibilities for coordinating and directing the quality circle activities within the organization. The facilitator is an individual in the organization who carries out such functions which make the operations of quality circles smooth, effective, and self sustainable. He is nominated by the management and also acts as a catalyst, innovator, promoter, and a guide. Leader and deputy leader of the quality circle are chosen by the members among themselves. Since the members of the quality circles are the basic element in the structure of the quality circle, they can decide to have a leader by rotation. Members of the quality circles are the small group of employees from the same work area or doing similar type of work. Non members are those who are not members of the quality circle but can be involved in the quality circle recommendations.
Fig 2 Quality circle in nutshell and its structure
Quality circle process
The QC process is normally comprised of a coordinating agency, steering committee, department committee, one or more facilitators, QC leader, and volunteer QC members. The coordinating agency is normally close to the organizational management, hence this ensures management support. The use of a steering committee composed of employees representing a broad range of interests, such as production, engineering, finance personnel, and the union is preferred by some of the organizational managements. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to see that QC leader and members have the necessary training. The facilitator is responsible for the actual operation of the process, trains leaders and members in problem solving techniques, and trains leaders in group dynamics. The QC leader is normally a front line manager from the QC work area and assists the facilitator in member training and conducts QC meetings. QC members meet weekly, initially to receive training and then to work on projects.
The operation of QC involves the several steps which are to be followed in sequence. The first step is the identification of the problems which are to be solved. The leader and the members of the QC identify the problems. Then the members decide the preferences and select the problem of top priority. Once the problem is selected then the analysis of the problem starts. The technical data related to the problem is collected from various agencies who are custodian of those data. The data of the selected problem is classified and analyzed by using basic problem solving techniques like brain storming, matrix diagrams, frequency distribution, histograms, control charts, Pareto analysis, and cause and effect diagram etc. Identification of various causes helps to generate different alternative solutions. The most appropriate and suitable solution is selected after considering various solutions with respect to the cost, and the possibility of implementation etc. Once the suitable solution has been selected, the members prepare the plan of action to implement the solution like area of implementation, date, and time etc. The chosen solution and the plan of action are put up to the management for the approval. The management evaluates the solution and examines the same before implementation. The management can also consider a pilot run. Fig 3 shows the process of quality circle.
Fig 3 Process of quality circle
Benefits and limitations of quality circles
There are no monetary rewards given in the quality circles. But there several advantages which largely benefit the individual and consecutively benefit the organization. These are (i) quality circles assist in the self development of members by improving self confidence, attitudinal change, and a sense of accomplishment, (ii) quality circles are consultative and participative activities where every member cooperates with others and this interaction assists in developing harmony and team spirit, (iii) quality circle members have an opportunity to attain new knowledge by sharing opinions, thoughts, and experience, (iv) every member gets a chance to build up his leadership potential because of the fact that any member can become a leader, (v) the mutual problem solving and presentation before the management assists the members to develop their communication skills, (vi) quality circles promote creativity by tapping the undeveloped intellectual skills of the employees, (vii) employees in addition execute activities diverse from regular work which enhances their self confidence and gives them big job satisfaction, and (viii) quality circles create a tension free atmosphere which is liked and understood by each individual member and under such atmosphere each member cooperates with others.
The common limitations of quality circle activities include (i) resistance on the part of the employees to implement quality circles, (ii) lack of time with the employees for quality circle activities since they are too busy in performing their job at the workplace, (iii) lack of ability because of low level of knowledge available with the employees due ti their educational background, (iv) lack of commitment and support from th organizational management, (v) employees getting disheartened if their suggestions are turned down by the organizational management and because of non implementation of suggestions they lose interest in quality circle activities, and (vi) negative attitude of the employees because of their being not satisfied with some of the management decisions.