Quality circles (QCs)
QCs, formerly called quality control circles, are crucial tools that have been used for a long time in continuous improvement efforts. They represent a way of problem-solving that involves team members and leaders simultaneously in every step of the problem-solving process. QCs were formalized and utilized by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa in 1960s.
QCs create a formal platform for team members and leaders to discover, identify, analyze, and solve quality problems occurring in their work areas and systems. QCs allow teams and team members to work on their problems, which generates an important opportunity for increased employee participation in Western management understanding.
QCs can also be defined as a formal problem-solving approach including 8-12 volunteer employees or team members working in the same unit to increase quality, productivity, and safety while decreasing waste and cost.
Imai (1986) expresses that sharing, caring, and commitment are essential values in Kaizen philosophy. Kaizen efforts, and specifically QCs, establish formal mechanisms for the sharing of participant experiences and for participants to support each other and show their commitment to their teams.
QCs operate on a hierarchical structure. First, QCs Steering Committees or Executive Committees are on the top of the hierarchy and are charged with managing organization-wide QCs activities. Second, QCs facilitators (enablers) have comprehensive roles to train leaders and members and link the QCs with the Executive Committee. Third, QCs leaders work together with QCs members and are responsible for managing QCs’ entire activities. When QC members need further assistance either about the problem that they work on or about the systematic implementation of QCs process, leaders may contact facilitators to get the information and guidance they need. QCs members are volunteers and are responsible for the entire process of QCs, including problem selection, definition, analysis, determination of root causes, solution development, and presentation to QCs Executive Committee. The hierarchical levels of QCs are illustrated in Figure 11.
Figure 11: The hierarchical structure of QCs
QCs function on a problem-solving based methodology that allows all members, leaders, and facilitators to work cooperatively and collectively. This methodology starts from “listing all current and possible problems to solve” and ends in “presentation of all problem-solving cycle to the Steering Committee” as illustrated in Figure 12.
Figure 12: The process flow of QCs
Today’s world is filled with complex problems, none of which have just one aspect, consideration, or solution. Instead, most have more complicated root causes and structures. In this sense, because continuous improvement is also an effective problem solving approach, cross-functional management should be integrated into current continuous improvement activities. Cross-functional teams contain team members who have diverse and different professional backgrounds that may be helpful to solve the problem or improve the current performance level. Since the main objective is to improve quality, decrease cost, and eliminate waste in the entire organization, cross-functional teams in continuous improvement may work on very diverse topics from organization-wide ones to process-based ones. This is another rational and formal way of breaking the barriers and increasing the collaboration between departments. Space payload projects almost always involve a team of collaborators with diverse backgrounds and technical expertise.
In a cross-functional perspective, QCs have been established across the organizations for a long time. They work on problems that involve two or more sides such as producers, subcontractors, and even customers.