Food Quality & Quality Circles

Quality is a term that is used by customers to describe their general satisfaction with a product or service. Managing the quality of a company’s product or service is an important aspect of operations management, as it helps improve process performance.

When examining quality variation, there are two causes: common and assignable. Common causes are purely random and typically unidentifiable, while assignable causes are identifiable and meant to be fixed/eliminated. In an OR Spectrum article, Akkerman, Farahani, and Grunow analyze food quality, among other things, in food distribution.

The type and quality of food distribution method can easily affect the quality of the food. Food not staying cold or frozen to prevent spoiling and bacteria is an assignable cause. This is because new technological developments have been made to improve temperature control and monitoring. The cause of bacteria and food spoiling was assigned to the temperature issue, which has now been identified and can be fixed. This, in turn, can help the process stay in control and maintain capability.


Because quality management is so important, some companies have even developed Quality Circles. According to Analyzing Operations in Business: Issues, Tools, and Techniques by Michael Summers, quality circles are “a group of workers that meet regularly for the purpose of suggesting ways to improve quality” and eliminate assigned causes. These workers are trained in group decision making and were allowed to collect data for their own use. It is important to note that superiors are not a part of this circle, but rather, they are given the information, data, and recommendations from the circle. This has been said to have helped motivate workers and generate useful ideas for process and quality improvement. The implementation of a quality circle was made popular in Japan, and often has mixed results in the United States as mid-level managers do not take the recommendations of their subordinates.

Once these issues are identified and recommendations are made, it becomes of little value to keep the quality circles around. Do you think a quality circle is something companies should have in their business? If so, what type of business? Is it more sustainable to have a quality circle that only meets once or twice a year?



slide share – Kailas Sree Chandran, Assistant Professor at Mohandas College of Engineering & Technology (pages 197-198)

6 thoughts on “Food Quality & Quality Circles

  • February 15, 2018 at 1:06 am

    I thought your post about Quality Circles was very interesting, as I had never heard or explored this idea of management. At first I thought this idea could be beneficial to any type of company and would offer really practical suggestions for improvements.

    I did some research of QC and found this article from Harvard Business Review that talks about the topic.

    Something that stood out to me was the fact that in some businesses, implementing Quality Circles as a way to improve the quality of a business, can sometimes do just the opposite. Quality circle programs in the US operate independently and in ways that are different from the existing organization. New roles are sometimes assigned to people, thus taking them out of their normal day to day work activities. To accomplish anything, the group has to report their results back to the overarching organization, which is both the reason and object of change but also the one that has any authority to make change.

    Companies might try to avoid using quality circles as a first step in creating company change since the transition is sometimes difficult to make.

  • February 14, 2018 at 4:15 pm


    Thanks for your insight on this issue. Like some of our classmates that have replied to your post, I found the idea of quality circles to be an interesting one. Having a group whose sole focus is to develop ideas to improve quality by thinking critically about the firm’s processes sounds like a great idea. There is always room for improvement when it comes to quality, and only the best firms take the time to locate that growth capacity.

    In my Organizational Behavior course, we are currently discussing the topic of leadership in organizations. Our textbook touches on a similar idea to one you brought up: different things work in different places. The efficacy of a leadership style varies greatly depending on where it is being used. Like the Japanese being more receptive to quality circles, there may be an effective, though different, way to manage quality and develop ideas for organizations in the States.

    • February 15, 2018 at 12:13 am

      Hi Christian!
      We are both on the same Organizational Behavior course, and just like you did, the first thing I thought about when reading the article was our class. Just like we mentioned in class, the environment in which the program is developed is of highly importance. So is the efficacy of the leader. Just like you, I also thought about how well this concept of quality circle fits with the Japanese culture.
      Not only that but making some research I found that the idea of the quality circle was born in Japan and although it has its benefits, the concept has also received a lot of backlash. Some people have commented that the concept is not useful unless the company’s management is well trained on the basic concepts of total quality management. Others have also pointed what we have pointed already, unless tailored to the specific cultures the program doesn’t work. Specially, in the US culture which tends to be very individualist it doesn’t work well because the original intention of the quality circle is to work collectively to find solutions to problems.

  • February 14, 2018 at 3:57 pm


    I enjoyed reading about quality control in food distribution and the quality circle concept. I personally believe that the quality circle is something with great potential, but something that lacks practicality in key areas. The primary issue, as you said, is that managers are typically not open to ideas from their subordinates. Changes that affect quality typically come from the top. As a result, hierarchal organizations do not spur the same creative solution finding as a company without titles or ranks would.

    One industry in which this roadblock can have a major effect on the end product is video games. Last summer I interned with a video game company in Germany. This company had two managing directors, five department directors, a few producers, and numerous staff. Within this company, the big game ideas came from the top two directors, with complimentary ideas coming from the other five directors. At a video company, various workers from different areas will bring up concerns or ideas that will help the quality of the game. However, the directors have their vision for the game already set in stone, and are very stubborn to alter that vision. In the end, the game ends up looking good in the eyes of the directors, but not necessarily in the eyes of a diverse audience.

    In this situation, the directors could have benefitted from these quality-improvement suggestions that the staff were providing. Their diverse opinions may better represent that of the diverse customer opinions make wholesomely. If management was more open to implementing suggestions from this pseudo quality circle, then they would likely end up with a higher quality game.

  • February 14, 2018 at 12:46 pm


    I thought it was interesting that you brought up how Quality circles are popular in Japan but not so much in the United States. I think that is a very useful idea to manage quality because it enables people who are involved directly with the process that controls quality to think of ways to make their jobs easier and ensure better quality. Managers in the United States don’t like to take recommendations from their subordinates but listening to the people who spend their time working within the process is the easiest way to find problems and assignable cause and fix the process to ensure top quality.

  • February 14, 2018 at 12:00 am


    I think the idea of a quality circle is incredibly interesting and makes a great deal of sense for companies and industries where quality is a competitive advantage. Food quality is important in particular because if it is not maintained it can make customers sick and decrease revenue. For example, Chipotle’s issue with E. Coli bacteria in their food resulted in 500 customers becoming ill and a lot of bad press.
    Chipotle’s complicated supply chain let the E. Coli go undetected before customers became ill.

    It is interesting to think about whether or not a quality circle would have been effective for Chipotle. I would argue that it would not have made a difference. Issues in food quality were the result of the complicated supply chain. Chipotle was not entirely sure of which ingredient the E. Coli was coming from which made it hard to detect and solve this issue. It is interesting to think about Chipotle as an example because they are a fast food chain that prides themselves in fresh, quality ingredients. Yet, these ingredients led to customers becoming sick. With fresh ingredients, contamination could happen along any step of the way and regular meetings with a quality circle cannot solve this issue. For a quality circle to be useful, ingredients sourcing and preparation would have to be more standardized.

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