evolution of quality circles

The Historical Evolution of Quality Circles: Meaning, Features, Objectives, Techniques

Many firms have dramatically improved their competitiveness by introducing Quality Circles. To make effective use of this radically different technique, managers must readjust their attitudes toward the workforce.

David Hutchins

Quality Circle and Quality Circle Implementation

Quality Circles are a key strategy for achieving competitive advantage and quality excellence. They are based on the philosophy of craftsmanship, which values the skills and pride of the workers.

Quality Circles are groups of employees who voluntarily work together to solve quality problems and improve work processes. This article traces the historical development of craftsmanship and Quality Circles, and shows how they have influenced the principles and practices of TQM.

Nobody should ignore the dramatic achievements of companies in Britain and around the world, which have introduced the concept of Quality Circles in their organisation.

There are no countries of significance where companies have not experimented with the concept of quality circles, even if they might not have achieved the expected results. When this happens the reans usually lie in the implementation process and not in the concept itself.

To further understand the effective implementation of quality circles in any organisation, David Hutchin’s recent book on Amazon, Self-Managing Work Groups, exclusively gives a detailed analysis of this implementation process.

David Hutchins, who has over forty years of experience working with Japan, and his business associate, Kola Olutimehin, will guide a team of professionals to uncover the techniques behind successful Total Quality Management (TQM) operations in Japan.

Scheduled for May 2024, the Japan Quality Tour is organised in partnership with the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). This tour provides a rare chance to see Japan’s TQM methods in action. Learn more about joining the Japan Quality Tour here.

Quality Circle Transition in Modern Industry with Examples


Quality Circles are based on the ‘Craftsmanship’ concept but on its own it is uneconomic when compared with the American mass production system.

Quality circles

Professor Kaoru Ishikawa postulated that maybe you could bring back craftsmanship, but to groups of people rather than individually.

The UK could have done that had our workforce not been destroyed. The important thing is that it is not alien to our culture, it is our culture! Industrially, craftsmanship originated as a factory system in the UK following the industrial revolution. It is founded on the belief that the craftsman is responsible for the quality of his or her own work. This was the culture of Business Management in the UK prior to World War 1. The foreman or supervisor was the leading craftsman and was held in high esteem, both by management and the workforce.

Tragically, most of the craftsmen were conscripted into the army, dressed in khaki uniforms and buried in the poppy fields of France. Had that not happened, the route to Quality Circles would have been an easy one. Instead, we copied the American so-called ‘Scientific Management’ approach where management manages and people do the work!


The American Scientific Management Approach

The American Scientific Management Approach is anything but scientific and results in industrial slavery. This is a strong view and of course, it is not always as bad as that, but it is not good from a humanistic point of view. We spend a third of our lives at work if we are lucky enough to have a job, and we should work on making it satisfying, enjoyable and rewarding. It gives us our self-esteem and can earn the esteem of others.

quality circles

The American Scientific Management Approach, also known as Taylorism, is based on the idea of breaking down work into simple, repetitive tasks that can be performed by unskilled workers under close supervision. The aim is to increase productivity and efficiency by eliminating waste and variability. However, this approach has many drawbacks and limitations, such as:

  • It ignores the human factor and treats workers as machines, without regard for their needs, preferences, skills, creativity, or motivation.
  • It creates a rigid and hierarchical structure that discourages communication, collaboration, and innovation.
  • It reduces the quality of products and services by focusing on quantity and speed, rather than customer satisfaction and continuous improvement.
  • It leads to low morale, high turnover, and increased absenteeism among workers, who feel alienated, bored, and stressed by their monotonous and meaningless work.

According to David Hutchins, “As a British TQM specialist, I strongly oppose the American Scientific Management Approach and advocate for a different way of managing quality, based on the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM).”

Enhancing Corporate Competitiveness with Quality Circles

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Quality Circles and an increasing number of British firms have taken an interest as a means of improving their corporate competitiveness. Interest in the model has been growing rapidly in retail and service businesses, as well as in manufacturing, the area where the idea was first applied.

The current upsurge of interest could be dismissed as nothing more than the reaction of beleaguered management in the present hostile economic climate. Today, any technique that appears to offer a path to higher productivity, better product quality and more harmonious labour relations must seem worth trying.

Undoubtedly, present conditions are making management increasingly receptive to ideas which might improve their competitive position.

However, this attitude appears to be less a panic reaction to shrinking markets and dwindling profits and more to a genuine realisation that many policies taken for granted in the past are no longer effective, and that fundamental changes of approach are necessary in many cases, if businesses are to remain viable.

In conclusion, the historical evolution of Quality Circles represents a full-circle journey from individual craftsmanship to collective problem-solving in the industrial sphere. This revival of craftsmanship principles, adapted to the complexities of modern business, underscores a timeless truth: the value of human skill, creativity, and collaboration in the pursuit of quality.