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Employee Involvement through Quality Circles

by Kevin Chan

Quality Circle has been a popular employee involvement technique among organizations pursuing for excellence, since its first official formation in Japan in 1962. The philosophy behind the technique was based on the belief of the quality guru, Feigenbaum in 1951, that quality control planning would only succeed with “quality-mindedness” from top management down to the worker. Since then, the Quality Circle technique has evolved into a structured system to harness the collective wisdom of everyone in the organization.

Organizations need to have a well-defined system to promote self-managed teams to tackle problem after problem to achieve continuous improvement at the workplace.


Quality Circle activities for continuous improvement
Figure: Quality Circle activities for continuous improvement
Source : Teian Consulting International, Singapore

The problem-solving approach used is sometimes called the QC Story and is based on the PDCA or Deming cycle. This approach does not require circle members to have in-depth technical knowledge to solve problems. What are needed are ideas for improvement and the will to try them out. If solutions do not work, the circle can redesign the solutions and try it again. In a way, so long as the leader is trained in Quality Circle techniques, the circle would be able to function.

QC story based on PDCA Cycle
Figure: The QC Story that is based on the PDCA Cycle
Source : Teian Consulting International, Singapore


The 7 QC tools used are simple and easy understandable so workers can readily participate after some training.  The statistical tools used include Checksheet, Graph and Control Charts, Pareto Diagram, Cause-and-effect Diagram, Histogram, Stratification and Scatter Diagram.

The author had in some instances difficulty convincing the higher echelon executives and engineers that such tools are effective. Some of them believe that these tools are too simple and that more sophisticated tools are needed. Little do they know that these tools are derived from the sophisticated tools used in Statistical Quality Control and were carefully compiled by a group of Japanese scientists including the famous Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa who invented the Cause-and-Effect Diagram. According to Toyoki Ikeda, a leading QC Management Consultant, the tools can deal with 99% of the problems at the workplace. Besides, it would be difficult if not impossible to communicate using sophisticated tools to workers.

According to the quality guru, Philip Crosby, initial quality awareness can yield about 15% of improvement. That means any improvement beyond would need more hard work. As such, the Quality Circle can fill this gap and help organizations tackle problems that require analysis at the workplace.

Quality Circle activities make use of the creative mind and enables self-fulfilment of workers, as they are able to make decisions. The activities benefit the organization as the efforts help in reducing cost of operation. For example, in an oil and gas exploration company, the brainstorming of problems had led to the identification of a huge amount of waste in the fixed scheduling of helicopter flights to the oil rigs, as members pointed out that they have seen helicopters flying without any passengers many times. The rescheduling of work and flights alone has helped the company to save millions of dollars a year. Besides, the skills, communication, inter-personal relationships and morale of workers have also improved, resulting in a more committed workforce.

This article have been written by our Principal Consultant, Mr. Kelvin Chan for the Asian Productivity Organization for their APO News published in February 2009 under the category of Productivity Methodologies, Tools and Techniques. The PDF version of the Newsletter is available for downloading from the Asian Productivity Organization website at this link.

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