Kaizen (改善),the Sino-Japanese word for continual improvement, is consistent focus on identifying opportunities for incremental increasein productivity, enhanced process efficiency, improved Client satisfaction and reduced waste and cost in an organization. It includes both pro-active and reactive approaches depending on the requirement of the organization and whether the problem is still anticipated or has occurred already. It is always preferable to prevent a problem or to solve it timeously, since incidents equate to unnecessary cost and waste of resources. Continual Improvement as defined inISO 9001:2015 states that “The organization shall continually improve the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the quality management system; and shall consider the results of analysis and evaluation, and the outputs from management review, to determine if there are needs or opportunities that shall be addressed as part of continual improvement.” If your company subscribes to the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System, then continual improvement is mandatory; if it does not, it is still financially and operationallybeneficial to focus on it as a business imperative.
Quality Circles is a participative organizational approach to solving problems pro-actively, and was devised by the American statistician W. Edwards Deming and implemented by him in Japanese industry after World War II. As with any methodology, Quality Circles contains inherentadvantages and disadvantages, butremains a cost effective methodology for preventive action and for engaging employees in contribution towards complex problem solving. The benefits of Quality Circles include harnessing the creative intellectual power of experienced employees for designing solutions toanticipated problems and challenges, minimizing risk and saving unnecessary associated costs.One of the key criteria for successful Quality Circles is to embed the assigned teams in the existing organization structures, and not to isolate it as a stand-alone and independent function. Quality Circles may be initiated as work groups, but over time they could extend to organization-wide participation as task forces, business teams or advisory groups, depending on the need of the organization.
Quality Circles necessitate skill in selected problem solving tools and their application. Several tools are often applied with success in Quality Circles and a selection of these include the following:
- The 5-SSystem
- Pareto Analysis
- Cause-and-Effect Diagrams (often referred to as Fish-Bone or Ishikawa Diagrams)
- Scatter Diagrams
- Check Sheets
- Statistical Process Control
If team members of Quality Circles have not been exposed to these tools, they may require training to understand and apply them effectively.
Quality Circles are pro-active interventions to resolve problems before they impact on product or service delivery. In contrast, reactive Root-Cause Analysis (RCA) is generally used for solving complex problems that already have impacted on product or service quality by breaking them down into simple cause-and-effect relationships. Major non-conformances will often require a thoroughly researched Incident Investigation instead of a RCA due to the complexity and multitude of causes involved.
Both Quality Circles and Root-Cause Analysis contribute to effective Kaizen. The key features and success of Kaizen include the following:
- Improvements are small, but many, and as a result often do not require major capital investment. The budget for improvements, if required, can be allocated as an operational rather than capital expense;
- The creative intellectual power and experience of employees are combined for innovative problem solving;
- The solutions offered by employees often result in significant cost saving and process improvements for the company;
- Colleagues working together in Quality Circles to solve problems and create solutions promotes team-building and camaraderie; and
- The organization benefits from innovative and structured complex problem solving resulting in continual improvement and significant business benefits.