Quality Control Circles: The basic building blocks of business excellence

  • Articles
  • Nov 30,22
Quality Control Circles (QCC) was the first innovation, which was formed to drive TQM (Total Quality Management) strong and deep in an organisation. A movement, which began in 1950 in Japan, is still going strong, says R Jayaraman.
Quality Control Circles: The basic building blocks of business excellence

On the 22nd November 2022, I came across a TV news item on Republic TV which surprised me no end: JSW Steel wins five gold medals in a QCC (Quality Control Circles), Or Quality Circle (QC for short). Not expected from any TV channels, as it was good news! Curious, I sought more information about this event and found the following:
New Delhi (India), November 22 (ANI): Jindal Steel & Power (JSP) clinched 5 Gold medals in the International Convention on Quality Control Circles -22 (ICQCC) held in Jakarta, Indonesia from November 15 to 18. Five Kaizen (Change for Good) teams of JSP, four from the Angul steel plant and one from Tensa mines known as Panther, Shakti, Kaushal, Dynamic, and Sparta comprising 14 engineers, participated in the tournament and won the highest category awards in their respective fields. ICQCC is the highest recognition forum globally in Quality Circle and Allied concepts. This year 757 participants from 14 countries participated to show-up their unique skills.

I was delighted to see that QCCs are still relevant in the current industrial situation. A movement which began in 1950 in Japan, is still going strong. It is well known that, for an invention to be successful as a widespread application tool in daily life, it must ‘get socialised’. Take for example, electricity. When Edison invented the humble electric bulb, people may not have appreciated all the applications to which electricity can be put. Overs the years, though, electricity has been used in many areas, many applications, so much so, that, life without electricity is not imaginable now. In the same manner, QCC’s, and its larger perspective, the Total Quality Management (or TQM, for short) have been socialised strongly, especially in manufacturing, banking, some services industry sectors like telecom. This socialising has been possible only due to the efforts of many committed workers like Noriaki Kano, Ishikawa and others, apart from the ‘Big Three’, Dr Edwards Deming, Dr Juran and Dr Philip Crosby (of the Zero defects fame).

While Shewhart it was who proposed the first idea of continuous improvement through the PDSA cycle, it was the Big Three who gave the necessary push to take TQM into companies as a way of working, or, a way of life. Dr Deming championed the Statistical Quality Control angle, Juran championed cost management and Crosby emphasised ‘Zero defects – first time right, every time’, which principles American automobile companies applied rigorously and reaped huge benefits for many years. Ford Motor was an exceptional champion of the Zero Defects philosophy.

The Japanese industry wholeheartedly embraced this philosophy and implemented it in the way only they can – through instruments of group work at the ground level. QCC was the first innovation, which was formed to drive TQM strong and deep in an organisation. QCC’s have evolved over the years. The idea of a QCC is based on the following six principles derived from the teachings of Dr Deming:
  1. Quality is TOTAL and not confined to the manufacturing divisions only (which was the case prior to 1950).
  2. Quality is to be managed and not merely controlled ie, TQM and not TQC. Continuous Improvement is the key element of quality management whereas inspection and conformance to specification was the motto in the TQC era.
  3. Continuous Improvement should be done using the concept of PDCA.
  4. No one is exempt from quality, ie, all employees, starting with the CEO are a part of the quality movement. Cross functional teams, superordinate goals, teamwork were the instruments of deploying PDCA in organisations.
  5. While quality deployment can and should be done using themes, slogans and calls for action, Continuous Improvement leading to an upward spiral is possible only if specific and refined tools and techniques are used in practice.
  6. Above all, the practice of improving quality using the Continuous Improvement techniques should not be merely confined to company or organizational work by employees, but also should be used in day to day life, so that the final goal of self development and self realization is achieved by each of the practitioners.

The last principle is indeed interesting. Whenever one visits Japanese companies under the aegis of the JUSE, to see the benefits from TQM, one will often hear Japanese workers and senior managers say how the benefits of TQM have been realised in day to day life. Many families of employees have benefited from the practice of TQM principles at home, such as, a clean and well maintained home, clean habits of residents, well kept surroundings, and high quality of life.

QCC’s address all the six requirements above. They involve all members of the organisation, they undertake systematic continuous improvement using Seven Old and Seven New QC tools, all the activities of a QCC are done through teamwork. In India, the QCC movement started in BHEL under the guidance of Dr V Krishnamurthy and Mr Udupa. The Quality Circles Forum of India, QCFI, established in 1981, has been the Apex body in India in promoting QCC activities in industry. This is apart from other efforts within companies, CII, and other forums in states.

The Tata Group has taken full advantage of the QCC methodology, and the following figures show the considerable progress achieved in the early years of TQM in Tata Steel.

  1. The QCC movement was run in Tata Steel under the TQM umbrella. Other initiatives included TPM, TOP (Total Operating Performance, an initiative specifically designed to give quantum jump in cost savings), 5S, Value Engineering, Methods Engineering, and others. With all these projects going on, the company realised large benefits in terms of cost savings, improved efficiency, lower cycle times, higher productivity, and so on. Below figure shows a snapshot of the combined savings achieved. 

    This same picture can be obtained from many other companies, such as, BHEL, JSW Steels, Mahindra, TVS group companies, Tata Motors, Maruti Limited, L&T, and others. Owing to the close working and collaborative and co-operative work practices adopted, productivity increases, rework falls, quality of output goes up, Work In Process inventory goes down and on-time delivery to customers increases. It is hoped that more and more companies, especially MSME’s, adopt the QCC approach to become more competitive in the global marketplace and contribute to the GDP of India going upto 4 trillion by 2025. 

    About the author:
    R Jayaraman is the Head, Capstone Projects, at Bhavan's S P Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR). He has worked in several capacities, including Tata Steel, for over 30 years. He has authored over 60 papers in academic and techno economic journals in India and abroad. Jayaraman is a qualified and trained Malcolm Baldrige and EFQM Business Model Lead Assessor.

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