A quality circle is a participatory management technique that enlists the help of employees in solving problems related to their own jobs. In their volume Japanese Quality Circles and Productivity, Joel E. Ross and William C. Ross define a quality circle as "a small group of employees doing similar or related work who meet regularly to identify, analyze, and solve product-quality and production problems and to improve general operations. The circle is a relatively autonomous unit (ideally about ten workers), usually led by a supervisor or a senior worker and organized as a work unit." Employees who participate in quality circles usually receive training in formal problem-solving methods²such as brainstorming, pareto analysis, and cause-and-effect diagrams²and then are encouraged to apply these methods to either specific or general company problems. After completing an analysis, they often present their findings to management and then handle implementation of approved solutions. Although most commonly found in manufacturing environments, quality circles are applicable to a wide variety of business situations and problems. They are based on two ideas: that employees can often make better suggestions for improving work processes than management; and that employees are motivated by their participation in making such improvements. Thus, implemented correctly, quality circles can help a small business reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve employee morale. Other potential benefits that may be realized by a small business include greater operational efficiency, reduced absenteeism, improved employee health and safety, and an overall better working climate. In their book Production and Operations Management, Howard J. Weiss and Mark E. Gershon called quality circles "the best means today for meeting the goal of designing quality into a product." The interest of U.S. manufacturers in quality circles was sparked by dramatic improvements in the quality and economic competitiveness of Japanese goods in the post-World War II years. The emphasis of Japanese quality circles was on preventing defects from occurring rather than inspecting products for defects following a manufacturing process. Japanese quality circles also attempted to minimize the scrap and downtime that resulted from part and product defects. In the United States, the quality circle movement evolved to encompass the broader goals of cost reduction, productivity improvement, employee involvement, and problem-solving activities. Background Quality circles were originally associated with Japanese management and manufacturing techniques. The introduction of quality circles in Japan in the postwar years was inspired by the lectures of W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993), a statistician for the U.S. government. Deming based his proposals on the experience of U.S. firms operating under wartime industrial standards. Noting that American management had typically given line managers and engineers about 85 percent of the responsibility for quality control and line workers only about 15 percent, Deming argued that these shares should be reversed. He suggested redesigning production processes to more fully account for quality control, and continuously educating all employees in a firm²from

involving company unions and lifetime employment guarantees for many full-time permanent employees. Quality circles in Japan were part of a system of relatively cooperative labor-management relations. In 1980 alone. and he received several prestigious awards for his contributions to the Japanese economy. Deming's idea that improving quality could increase productivity led to the development in Japan of the Total Quality Control (TQC) concept. changes resulting from employee suggestions resulted in savings of $10 billion for Japanese firms and bonuses of $4 billion for Japanese employees.the top down²in quality control techniques and statistical control technologies. In the early 1990s. His prediction was vindicated. Lockheed estimated that its fifteen quality circles had saved nearly $3 million. As Lockheed's successes became known. which prohibited company unions and management-dominated labor organizations.S. As an added bonus. and addressed the conditions of employment within the firm. by 1980. other firms in the aerospace industry began adopting quality circles. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made several important rulings regarding the legality of certain forms of quality circles. quality circles attempted to prevent defects from occurring in the first place. when the U. Another ruling held that a company's labor-management committees were in effect labor organizations used to bypass negotiations with a labor union. Rather than relying upon post-production inspections to catch errors and defects. Lockheed's visit resulted in the gradual establishment of quality circles in its factories beginning in 1974. with a ratio of savings to cost of six to one. in which quality and productivity are viewed as two sides of a coin. machine downtime and scrap materials that formerly occurred due to product defects were minimized. Deming's ideas became very influential in Japan. Deming predicted that if Japanese firms adopted the system of quality controls he advocated. The principles of Deming's quality circles simply moved quality control to an earlier position in the production process. the U. Quality circles were the means by which this continuous education was to take place for production workers. over one-half of firms in the Fortune 500 had implemented or were planning on implementing quality circles. This trip marked a turning point in the previously established pattern. As a result of these . aerospace manufacturer Lockheed organized a tour of Japanese industrial plants. These rulings were based on the 1935 Wagner Act. Thereafter quality circles spread rapidly throughout the U. TQC also required that a manufacturer's suppliers make use of quality circles. quality circles provided a means by which production workers were encouraged to participate in company matters and by which management could benefit from production workers' intimate knowledge of the production process. that featured agendas dominated by the firm. nations around the world would be imposing import quotas on Japanese products within five years. enterprise-oriented system.S. Active American interest in Japanese quality control began in the early 1970s. in which Japanese managers had made educational tours of industrial plants in the United States. Within two years.S. Consistent with this decentralized. economy. One NLRB ruling found quality programs unlawfulthat were established by the firm.

the small business owner should be comfortable with a participative management approach. Others are ongoing. For example. . the small business will only benefit from quality circles if employee participation is voluntary. It may even be necessary to hire outside facilitators if the time and expertise does not exist in-house. but were aimed specifically at the practices of the companies in question. Some small businesses may find it helpful to establish a steering committee to provide direction and guidance for quality circle activities. Quality circles also serve to facilitate communication and increase commitment among both labor and management. First. It is also important that the small business have good. Finally. Even if all these requirements are met. would be hindered. The small business owner must be willing and able to commit the time and resources needed to train the employees who will participate in the program. makes the value of teams apparent. a number of employer representatives expressed their concern that quality circles. as well as employee awareness of the need for innovation within the company. the NLRB stated that these rulings were not general indictments against quality circles and labormanagement cooperation programs. However. improving quality. particularly the quality circle leaders and facilitators. Gregerman outlined a number of requirements for a small business contemplating the use of quality circles.rulings. many companies find that quality circles further teamwork and reduce employee resistance to change. But successful quality circles offer a wide variety of benefits for small businesses. a design team developing a new product. as well as the support of middle managers for the quality circle program. they serve to increase management's awareness of employee ideas. in some cases.Understanding the many interrelationships that exist between organizational units and processes. the small business owner must allow time for the quality circles to begin achieving desired results. In enhancing employee satisfaction through participation in decision-making. or a process improvement team organized to solve a particular problem. Requirements for Successful Quality Circles In his book Productivity Improvement: A Guide for Small Business. as well as other kinds of labor-management cooperation programs. quality circles can improve a small business's overall competitiveness by reducing costs. such initiatives may also improve a small business's ability to recruit and retain qualified employees. and promoting innovation. activities and performance. productivity and cost. and the impact of these relationships on quality. cooperative labor-management relations. and if employees are allowed some input into the selection of problems to be addressed. it can take more than a year for expectations to be met. Finally. Ira B. In addition.Some teams have a limited life: for example. such as a department team that meets regularly to review goals. QUALITY TEAMS A team is a group of people who perform interdependent tasks to work toward a common mission.

Types Of Teams Many of today¶s team concepts originated in the United States during the 1970s. Increased commitment to organizational mission. New skills for future leadership roles. not as integrated with them. Increased knowledge of interpersonal dynamics. safety. Improved quality and productivity. quality. Self-managed teams directly manage the day-to-day operation of their particular process or department. Promotion of cross-functional understanding. Feelings of satisfaction and commitment. such as goal-setting. Increased quality of work life. 2. The degree of authority and autonomy of the team can range from relatively limited to full self-management. The Value of Teams Team processes offer the following Individuals can gain the following benefits from benefits to the organization: teams: y y y y y y y y y Synergistic process design or problem solving. Three primary types of teams are typically used within the business environment: 1. More flexible response to change. Team designs have since evolved into a broader concept that includes many types of teams formed for different purposes. Greater innovation. allocation of assignments and conflict resolution. A sense of being part of something greater than what one could accomplish alone. The participative approach is based on the belief that employees will be more productive if they have a higher level of responsibility for their work. Objective analysis of problems or opportunities. Work groups. a product line or a stage of a business process) and work together in a participative environment. Broader knowledge of business processes. through the use of quality circles or employee involvement initiatives.´ have responsibility for a particular process (for example. These teams come together to achieve a specific goal. a department. Reduced operating costs. maintenance. Process improvement teams are project teams that focus on improving or developing specific business processes. But the initiatives were often seen as separate from normal work activities. 3. Increased ownership and y y y y y y y Enhanced problem-solving skills. scheduling and personnel). . Their responsibilities also include processes traditionally held by managers. sometimes called ³natural teams. are guided by a well-defined project plan and have a negotiated beginning and end. They are authorized to make decisions on a wide range of issues (for example.

It is helpful to assign a person to assume the following responsibilities of a quality coordinator: a) Maintain support and training for process improvement teams. a facility will form a quality committee or council consisting of senior leaders to provide a sustainable focus and appropriate resources for continuous quality improvement. e) allocate appropriate resources. d) Train and assigning team facilitators. b) select process improvement projects.y stewardship. b) Facilitate the operation of the quality committee by providing data and reports on key processes. and f) recognize accomplishments. d) charter a cross-functional or departmental process improvement team when appropriate. Criteria The quality council or committee should select improvement projects based on data and information that identifies unacceptable performance related to least one of the following criterion: y Will a process improvement increase the satisfaction of customers and potential customers? y Will a process improvement bring compliance with internal standards or the Federal and State regulations? y Will a process improvement increase employee productivity and customer responsiveness? . Reduced absenteeism turnover and CREATING A QUALITY IMPROVEMENT TEAM Ideally. The primary role of this committee is to: a) routinely monitor the performance of key processes. This can be an existing group such as the quality assurance committee. c) assign responsibility for the improvement effort. c) Draft charters for process improvement teams.

especially in the early stages of development when the team is learning how . The leader is usually responsible for developing the record of the meeting outcomes and actions needed. The expectations of the quality committee are communicated through the charter developed specifically for each project. The team leader requests assistance from a team facilitator when the team is struggling with its ability to work together and use effective team meeting skills.y Will a process improvement reduce operating cost. and d) prepare and approve the team charter. c) assign a facilitator. b) select the team leader and members. and c) determine the support needed and process to be used to effectively train the team members. The leader actively participates as a member by contributing ideas and participating in the team processes and decisions. The team may review the charter and request changes that they believe will clarify their mission or improve their effectiveness by adjustments to the timeline and resources. if assigned) to: a) review and clarify the team¶s mission and charter. a representative of the quality committee will meet with team leader (and facilitator. TEAM ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES Leader The leader of a team is a permanent role for the life of the team. The charter establishes the parameters for the team effort. or increase employee/resident safety? The Chartering Process The quality committee¶s responsibility in chartering a process improvement team is to: a) select quality improvement projects that meet the criteria. The leader is responsible to coordinate and focus the meeting activity on the mission of the team. improve cycle time. the facilitator should be present at most meetings. b) review and clarify the operating guidelines. When the team has been chartered. If assigned. He or she should develop a preliminary plan for each team meeting. Facilitator The most effective teams have a trained team facilitator in a permanent role to meet with them and guide their use of meeting skills and tools.

If a permanent facilitator is not assigned to the team. consensus building. The facilitator works with the team leader to make sure that information is gathered to study the issue being addressed. The facilitator is the team¶s liaison with the steering committee for resources and time. The team may be larger. The recorder is a full participant in the team process while they are recording. Team members are normally selected because they represent a part of the cross-functional process that is being improved. The facilitator must exercise personal discipline to not contribute ideas or participate in decisions regarding the process being studied. Team members agree up front that they will not criticize the spelling or writing of the recorder. Sometimes. then one should be available to assist the team when they are struggling with team processes or when they need advice or skill training to effectively use problem-solving tools. The facilitator functions as a team advisor with expertise in the processes and tools that help teams be effective. Recorder The recorder is a rotated position selected at the beginning of each team meeting based on the ground rules. It is important that the recorder write down what each team member says rather than their interpretation of what was said. that an improvement plan is developed. Timekeeper The timekeeper is also a rotated position selected at the beginning of each team meeting based on the ground rules. and other tools and processes on a flip-chart or white board that is visible to the team. The involvement of the facilitator normally diminishes as the team members and team leader gain more knowledge and skills about team processes and tools. Every team member should be encouraged to fill this role. Sometimes it is helpful to select two recorders when a lot of information needs to be logged. Sometimes the team leader and other members need to make sure that the recorder is participating.´ All members have a responsibility to participate and share their knowledge with mutual respect for other team members. The facilitator coaches the team in the use of team meeting skills and tools and gives impartial feedback to the members to improve their communication and meeting process. and be applauded for the patience and listening skills it requires. a team member from outside of the process is included to give the process ³fresh eyes. The primary role of the timekeeper is to call out the time remaining on each . but the time commitment usually increases and the speed with which the team begins to perform is slower. Member Effective teams usually have 4 to 6 members. Team members will also rotate to fulfill the roles or recorder or timekeeper at each meeting. including the team leader.work together and how to use the improvement tools. and that the meeting record is being completed properly. The primary role of the recorder is to record content from brainstorming..

3. 2. Some of the steps may be completed simultaneously in some projects. . Improve the process. IMPROVEMENT METHODOLOGY It is important for all members of the team to understand the methodology that will be used to improve the process or system that has been assigned to the team. In investigating root cause. Plan how to most effectively implement the improvements with performance measures.agenda item at intervals the team determines is appropriate when developing their ground rules. The key steps to process improvement are: 1. 4. training. 5. keep asking ³why´ to each result until you move past the symptoms and apparent causes to the root cause. Develop potential solutions that remove the root cause and barriers to improvement and develop consensus on the best solution. 6. the timekeeper assists the team in staying on task and managing its time effectively. Collect and analyze data and information that measures the process performance and identifies the root causes of the variation and gaps. Describe the current process or situation in specific terms so that the problem with the greatest impact can be identified and analyzed. Sometimes the project assigned is to improve a system that consists of many processes. In this case. tools. study the results. and policies to hold the gains. it is important for the team to identify which of the processes would provide the greatest impact if improved. Define the need for the improvement based on the internal or external customer¶s expectations or the benefits to be gained by the organization. In this way. and start working on that process first. The following methodology identifies all of the key steps to improvement. and make changes to achieve the desired results. it is very important that the team recognize that they must gather information to study and identify the root cause of the problem rather than just jump to solutions. However.

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