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The quality control circle or more popularly known as quality circle concepts were formed in Japan in 1960 and in United States it started in 1977. Gradually it caught the attention world over and most of the developed and developing countries are using this concept to their benefits.
Definition of Quality Circle
A Quality circle is defined as a small group of employees who voluntarily cooperate to solve problems relating to:
- production, wastage of materials,
- quality of raw material, tool, semi-finished and finished goods,
- work-environment, energy consumption,
- scheduling, delay,
- safety and anything that acct these factors.
Theoretically, quality circles are groups of workers who do similar work but could be built up of individuals drawn from different positions provided they share the same work area and can identify common problems. The underlying perception in forming the quality circle is that it should be a homogeneous and coherent body for a common goal.
For example, the quality circle should not be formed with people with, say, from foundry shop, welding shop, heat treatment and design section. As these cannot form a coherent group as they do not share common problems.
Characteristics of Quality Circle
The quality circle thus has the following characteristics:
1. A small group of people who do similar work
The quality circle essentially consists of people who do similar work. But it does not imply that the circle cannot consult the specialists or others. In fact, ideas and solutions can be sought from any corner.
2. The members in the circle should not be many
It is argued that smaller the circle better the coordination and homogeneity. The circle should look like a team and not a committee. It should consists of members between three and ten depending upon the size of the department. As suggestions for removing any snag or improving the productivity are invited from every member of the department no one would feel neglected or side tracked.
3. Voluntarily meeting together
People are invited to join the quality circle but they are not compelled. The members feel the need to meet together to discuss and devise ways to improve the functioning of their areas concerned. Hence, joining a quality circle is voluntary and not forced upon.
4. Meeting regularly every week
The duration and frequency of meetings even vary in Japan (where this concept originated), it is favored to have meetings at least an hour every week. But actually, the frequency and duration of each meeting should be decided by the circle members who will take all factors into account such as the severity of the problem, urgency of problem, number of problem etc. The date of holding a meeting is also decided by the circle members so that their meeting does not disturb the production schedule.
In practice, the quality circles have proved to be a boon in disguise for the industries. They may hold the meetings during a maintenance period, a job change over or after completion of weekly work schedule. They may meet at the beginning or end of the shift or during lunch break.
5. Under the leadership of their own supervisor
The quality circle is purely concerned with work-related problems. Therefore, supervisors of the work area prove to be the best persons to lead the group, as they are thorough with the functioning of the department. The idea of electing or selecting the leader from the quality circle members is not encouraged as it does not work out effectively.
6. Identification, Analysis and Solutions
The circle identify their own problems in their own work area. The circle members are not encouraged to highlight the fault of others.
7. Presenting Solutions to Management
After collection of data, working out new ideas in consultation with all kinds of people, the members come to a conclusion which if implemented will deliver the goods. The final idea (solution) should be presented to the management together by the group members (not by the leader alone or any other member). Interestingly the circle solutions (projects) are so meticulously thought out that their outright rejection (not favored for implementation) by the management is rare.
8. Self Implementation
The quality circles are made for implementation of their solutions as they deal with the problems over the fence in the next department are completely isolated from it. Only each department has to care for their babies.
9. Meeting time any time
The meetings of the circle members may not be arranged essentially during their normal working hours. As it may affect their working and thereby production. Also, if the work is done in shifts then the circle members may come different shifts and a common free time for all may be difficult to spare within normal working period. Hence, such meetings could be held any time in a working day and holiday.
Advantages of Quality Circles
The following are some of the advantages of Quality Circles.
1. It infuses team spirit among the workers.
2. It improves decision making ability.
3. It improves employee communication at all levels of the organization.
4. It improves problem solving ability.
5. It improves leadership skill.
6. It builds confidence / trust.
7. It incorporates a sense of belonging to their organization.
8. It creates a sense of corporate loyalty and corporate pride.
9. It improves the relationship between managers and the work force.
10. It improves quality, production and productivity.
11. It improves the self image of the employees.
12. It reduces cost of production.
13. It enhances customer satisfaction.
14. It increases demand for product/services of the organization.
15. There is greater job security and more employment opportunity
Problems of Quality Circle Programmes
1. As the circle membership is voluntary, a member can drop out when he/she wishes so. This option may be even be exercised to force other members to come to his/her terms.
2. The selection of a problem to be tackled first may generate more heat among the circle members. A strong-willed member may bulldoze his/her ideas straining the relationship.
3. The quality circle takes up a problem which is difficult to solve, thus, wasting their time and energy.
4. The departmental managers often prove less supportive, as the members of quality circle come to limelight often.
5. Fixing-up meeting time becomes difficult due to fluctuating working demand.
6. The circle may form an impression that the management is not implementing its suggestions whole heatedly and is dilly-dallying the idea which may have a dampening effect on the circle, demoralizing them.
7. The quality circle may feel after some time that it has run out of problems which in effect implies that it is not brainstorming according to the rules.