Quality circles: what they are and the characteristics of this method

Companies tend to optimize their processes more and more, which is why different procedures are constantly emerging that pursue this goal.

That of quality circles is a good example.. Throughout this article we will study in detail all its features, how it is performed and we will find out what are its strengths if we decide to use it in our own organization.

    What are Quality Circles?

    Quality circles refer to a business methodology you are looking for optimization of processes through groups of workers (circles) who share the different problems and the aspects that could be improved that they found in their respective departments with the aim of sharing different ideas and arriving at solutions allowing to solve the greatest number of incidents detected previously in the analysis carried out.

    Once the members of the quality circles have made these agreements, the next step would be transfer the chosen ideas to the heads of each department so that they can study them carefullyThey check whether their application is viable and, if they agree, implement them, allocating the necessary departmental resources for this so that the new processes are put in place and their effects are noted as soon as possible. .

    What makes them so effective and valuable in quality circles is that the information provided by workers from different sections of the company is first-hand and spontaneous, they are problematic that they observe and experience themselves. day to day, as they are no inferences or inferences based on third party data. In this way, we have information of incalculable value in order to improve quality processes.

    This methodology appeared in Japan in the 1960s, a country still at the forefront of implementing new procedures to improve quality management. The creator of this new method was businessman and chemist Kaoru Ishikawa. Since its creation, quality circles have continued to establish themselves in a multitude of Asian companies, demonstrating their effectiveness in organizations with the classic cultural cut of the Orient.

    However, in it has not been so successful in the western business world, a relatively common problem when it comes to exporting methodologies to very different cultural fields.. But it is a problem of solution, since the question is to adapt these methods to the idiosyncrasy of the place where one wants to implant them. With good cultural adaptation, quality circles are just as effective in the West as in the East.

    Characteristics

    In quality circles, there is the figure of the facilitator, a person responsible for coordinating the group and explaining to them the dynamics to follow. The facilitator provides the appropriate training in methodology to the rest of the classmates. All members hold these meetings during working hours, and will do so regularly, As agreed by all and the priority of the issues to be discussed at each session.

    The facilitator will only be responsible for soliciting the participation of the different members of the quality circle and guiding the process, but he should never evaluate the proposals that are made, nor speak for or against them, keeping at all times the ‘objectivity. It would be his job to mitigate any conflict situations that might arise between the different components, again urging members to continue with the methodology.

    Regarding the dimensions of the group, it is recommended that each quality circle contain at least four participants and try not to be more than eight. These are the recommended figures, but the total number can be adapted to the particular characteristics of the company, the number of departments it has or if you want to deal with special cases involving the presence of more workers in the organization.

    Among these members (since the figure of the facilitator is distinct), you must choose one as the spokesperson for the group. He will be the one who, once the session is over, will give the corresponding summary with the measures chosen to the various department heads. The authorship of this document corresponds to the team as a whole, not to anyone in particular, as decisions were made jointly, so no signature will be reflected at the individual level.

    The Quality Circles will meet again on a cyclical basis, depending on the needs of the business, although it is recommended that there be at least one meeting per fiscal year. It is also possible to encourage the creation of other independent quality circles to deal with different issues, so that there is several teams working in complementarity at the same time and thus solving several problems in less time, which further optimizes the procedure.

      Implementation of this methodology in organizations

      In order to be able to implement the quality circles methodology, the first thing we need is the approval of the management of the company, of course. Once the plan is presented, those in charge will have to support it and promote the proper functioning of the circles in the future, an essential condition for their prosperity, without the trust of business leaders, we cannot expect quality circles to develop to the full potential they contain.

      Once we have the green light, we must design an implementation program adapted to the characteristics of the company, favoring the spontaneous appearance of the circles, because it is the ideal framework for the start of this program. All quality circles must be supported by an independent organization, which provides all the resources they need for proper functioning, in terms of space, material or any other means required.

      The next step will be choose the leaders of the different quality circles and give them the appropriate training so that they can carry out the tasks entrusted to their figure. At this point, the company can now officially communicate the implementation of this methodology to all workers so that anyone who wishes can participate in the processes. It is important that all staff are aware of this situation, as one of the keys to the functioning of quality circles is communication.

      Then it will be necessary to decide what are the most important questions and therefore how much time to spend at the start of the program. You don’t have to be overly ambitious and deal with all of the issues at once, but you should prioritize and try to resolve each issue before moving on to the next. In addition, it is important that the first problems discussed have a relatively simple solution, as a successful start is essential to improve the implementation.

      Everything would be ready to start the operation of the first quality circles of the company. It may happen that on these first occasions, workers are reluctant to participate, Perhaps for the proposed themes. In this case, it would be advisable to wait a little to re-propose the creation of the circles, this time proposing different issues, hoping that this change will motivate the first members to make their appearance.

      Content

      The subjects to be addressed in quality circles are very varied, in particular according to the type of company and the sector in which it is established. however, there are wide lines that are suitable for several companies and that they can be a good guide to start applying the methodology. Likewise, there are also a number of issues that you should never choose as topics to be covered in circles.

      As examples of those that are likely to be chosen, we would have the increase in the quality of the product or service offered, improve the company’s communication channels and inter-ministerial coordination, minimize bureaucratic processes, reduce costs, provide more satisfactory customer service, improve working conditions at the environmental level (comfort, cleanliness and safety) or shortening lead times, where possible.

      But we were already anticipating that there are issues that are not suitable for analysis by circles of safety. For example, we should never discuss the working conditions of employees, question the abilities of team leaders or other colleagues, evaluate implemented business strategies or comment on some other set of company decisions such as layoffs or promotions.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Palom, FJ (1991). Quality circles: theory and practice. Production.
      • Ruelas-Barajas, I., Reis-Zapata, H., Zurita, B., Vidal-Pineda, LM, Karmcher, S. (1990). Quality circles as a strategy for a quality assurance program in health care at the National Institute of Perinatology. Public Health of Mexico.
      • Thompson, CP, Hassan, A. de. (1984). Quality circles: how to make them work. Norma Quito.

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