Boosting Quality Made Simple

I was born when the word “quality” would be used in association with Japanese products. But this was not always the case. They completely changed world perception using gamification!

A couple of darts in the center of a dartboard
Photo by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash
Nerd alert!

This article was written with the intent to provide some visibility of the experience I had in my career working for a Japanese company. This means that it’s a bit more technical than most, but guarantees that the insights are worth the read!

I learnt about using Gamification for the first time in Japan, through the Quality Control Circles (QCCs): Imagine a global competition where employees are invited to identify improvement opportunities and implement them.

What are the Quality control Circles?

Basically, the Quality Control Circles, or QCCs, it’s a Continuous Improvement Program where teams are created within a company to compete to see who can improve the customer experience the most at the lowest possible investment to the organization.

After WWII, Japanese companies were unable to compete in the global market because, despite their low prices, their products were perceived to be of inferior quality. Japanese products, on the other hand, are today known for their high quality and dependability. What caused this to happen? Major efforts were taken by Japanese organizations, including having their managers assume personal responsibility for quality, providing quality-related training throughout the corporate hierarchy, and implementing the QC Circle idea to allow employees to engage in the company’s quality activities.

Nowadays, the QCC Programs are widely spread in the manufacturing world and considered a best in class way to create a quality driven culture.

Till today, what gets me the most about QCC is how a simple competition created a customer centric and focused culture where everyone is encouraged to find ways to continuously improve the customer experience.

Done right, the Quality Control Circles are internationally recognized as a Quality Program that creates a true culture of excellence.

My experience in a Quality Control Circle

I had the honor of being invited to participate in a Quality Control Circle in a Yazaki factory in Australia. The teams had already been created and I was brought in to support technically as a process efficiency engineer.

It was a QCC competition and we were competing internally in the country’s affiliation (Yazaki Australia) and, after a winning team was determined, that team would go to Japan to represent the country in the Global company’s competition.

My team, a group of assembly line operators, came up with a project that would cut several steps in the assembly line just by changing how the raw parts were conveyed to the line.

Was simple, creative and not expensive to implement so, basically, perfect as a project idea to compete in this Continuous Improvement Program.

The structure of the Quality Control Circles

We had to follow a certain structure and steps:

  • Step 1 – Team Formation – Where the team would be created
  • Step 2 – Analysis of Present situation – A brainstorm where everyone would pitch in what they believe is obstructing the customer experience and could be somehow improved
  • Step 3 – Selection of Theme – Decision made of what would be the focus of the analysis after the brainstorm done in Step 2.
  • Step 4 – Setting of target – Determining the goal of the project and setting indicators and targets to achieve by implementing an improvement
  • Step 5 – Activity timetable – Creating a realistic timeline of the project to present to stakeholders for approval
  • Step 6 – Analysis of primary factors / Confirmation of root causes – Analysis of data that could indicate what was creating the obstruction to the customer experience
  • Step 7- Planning of countermeasures / Prioritizing implementation approach – Based on Step 6, determining solutions that could prevent reoccurrence of the issues causing a poor customer experience
  • Step 8 – Implementation of countermeasures – Determining who is going to do what and when to implement the solutions and execute the improvement plan
  • Step 9 – Analysis of Results – Check to see if the solutions implemented had allow for the targets set in Step 4 to be achieved
  • Step 10 – Standardization – If results in Step 9 were successful, create training, procedure adjustments and ensure new employees learn the new way from the start.
  • Step 11 – Reflection and Future Plans – A reflection is done of the project and changes created and the team (the Quality circle) design ways to ensure execution challenges faced during implementation, are avoided for the next project.

This all may sound pretty intense if you think that some factory workers are not computer savvy or like to do presentations to the leadership team. But that, for me, is the beauty of the QCC program: the simplicity created to ensure EVERY employee can and should be involved:

  • Training – Before a QCC Program starts, employees that want to get involved, receive practical training on how to do each step. They also get appointed a technical support to ensure quantifications and success indicators are well determined and calculated (that was my role as a support engineer to my team);
  • Standard approach – Each team would receive templates in a flip chart that all they needed to do was to fill out. This would ensure everyone would follow the same framework;
  • Non-threatening presentation – Since the templates were presented in a Flipchart, the same would be used to avoid wastes of time creating presentations and to eliminate the need to use a computer, in case anyone would be embarrassed not knowing how to create a slideshow.

Here are some samples of the flipchart to give you a feel for the simplicity of the full process:

So if you are serious about your customer’s journey and quality it’s a strategic focus, you need to give QCC a go!

“As with many other things, there is a surprising amount of prejudice against quality control, but the proof of the pudding is still in the eating”, Kaoru Ishikawa

To learn more on how I successfully adapted the QCC concept to a service environment, check out here for more insights!

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.

I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.