A complete survey of the operation of Quality Control Circles in Japan
Quality Control Circles (QCCs) are small groups of workers from the same workshop, which meet, often on their own time, to discuss ways to improve the quality of their work. They are supported by management; the circles and the support structure together are called Quality Control Circle (QCC) activity. The phenomenon is widespread in Japan: as of December 1987, 264,899 circles had been registered with more than two million members. QCC activities have spread to more than fifty countries worldwide and can be considered the most famous Japanese organizational innovation to date. The Japanese QCC, in its contribution to business application and theory, may rival the discovery of the informal organization of Hawthorne Studies frame.The Japanese QCC movement has achieved quite impressive results, which are well described in the Japanese-language literature. Of concern, however, is what sustains and causes the phenomenon. The existing literature is quite thin on these mechanisms and forces. Our aim in this research is to develop a systematic model of the organizational nature and management of Japanese QCC activities. Quality engineering and group dynamics are not part of this study; the focus is on the supporting arrangements, not on what happens within a circle. 
Paul Lillrank is professor of Industrial Engineering and Management at the Helsinki University of Technology. Noriaki Kano is professor emeritus of Management Science at the Tokyo University of Science.