Managing QC Inspectors, Part 7: The Quality Manager in China

This is the seventh part in the series I am writing about the management of QC inspectors in China.

Many companies in China have difficulties finding the right quality manager. In particular, it is difficult to find an individual who will simultaneously:

  1. Run the day-to-day operations of the quality department and repeat the same principles to his staff and to suppliers 10 times a day — and keep doing this for years;
  2. Be a change agent and guide his/her team to work in a different way (from my observations, QA/QC operations are often very poorly organized in China).

Do you really need a quality manager?

I see buying offices employing up to 20 inspectors that have no quality manager. The general manager and some strong merchandisers/buyers can do what a quality manager usually does. And sometimes it works fine.

If you need someone to handle the daily work and handle the issues that come up, you can hire at the supervisor level — for example, one for final QC, one for pre-production approvals and early production checks, and one for document control and calibration.

What profile to look for in a candidate?

Hubert Delelis Fanien, who has a real talent for evaluating candidates, listed the personality types most suitable to the quality manager function:

  1. An active attitude (a passion in acting, doing, using his hands)
  2. A masculin dominant character (a desire to do well, strong convictions, and a willingness to go ahead)
  3. A rational intelligence (capacity to extract patterns and to identify links between situations)

I strongly encourage you to rate candidates not only on experience, skills, and likability, but also on the three traits listed above.

I will also outline a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Promoting the member of the quality department who has the highest number of years of experience. This person won’t be a change agent AND might fail as a manager!
  • Promoting the employee who best handles problems. The problem is, that person probably likes to be busy responding to urgent issues. If your quality manager puts out fires every day, who will put systems in place and drive their implementation through training and coaching?
  • Giving a “manager” title to someone as a “thank you for all your past work” gift. Some Chinese managers tend to think their job is simply to do emails, attend meetings, and tell their staff what to do. But you want someone who is motivated to get results (e.g. fewer internal mistakes, more efficient internal processes, a better pool of suppliers, etc.)

A good manager will be a good quality manager

First and foremost, you are looking for a manager, not a quality specialist.

If you want to hire a manager, here are the tasks he should focus on:

  • Spend time where work is performed, observe processes, notice problems (e.g. visit your suppliers’ factories, visit your main customers at least once).
  • Train the staff, coach the staff, lead by example, maintain discipline.
  • Ensure the most important procedures and work instructions get written, shared with the right people, and maintained over time.
  • Standardize and streamline the work in order to free up some of his employees’ time (e.g. merge several forms and reports into one simple report).
  • Make management more visual, for better communication and coordination (e.g. putting out boards that show the main issues to follow up on, the responsible parties, and the due dates).
  • Ensure the root cause of problems is addressed in the corrective action planning process.
  • Set up a regular auditing system that detects lapses in the system (including failure to comply to past corrective action plans).
  • Have a rational approach — prioritize actions based on a gap analysis; collect data to address the most important issues; run small experiments when appropriate.
  • Not be afraid of taking decisions and sending them in written form.

What is specific to quality managers? Here are a few things that come to my mind:

  • Writing procedures and keeping them alive — or coaching someone in doing this work.
  • Explaining to suppliers how they should improve, and monitoring improvement plan
  • Ensuring the feedback loop is in place for continuous improvement
  • Being able to apply common quality tools such as the 7 basic QC tools, FMEA, control plan, etc.

In other words, a strong manager from another department (for example in production or logistics) can usually be a strong quality manager… and will usually be more open to the needs of the other departments.

Any reader wants to share their experience as quality manager (or in contact with quality managers)?

Managing QC Inspectors, Part 6: Planning the Inspections

This is the sixth part in the series about the management of QC inspectors in China.

In my last article on this topic, I mentioned the need to have system to manage the planning. Some companies let factories and inspectors set the planning freely among themselves, and I think that’s a big mistake.

Here is the advice I usually give buying offices.

1. Manage the planning in the office

An assistant manager should set the planning. Suppliers should send an application (for example every Thursday for the following week) and that assistant manager should paste all the info in one file.

Some specialized software can help, but the main working tool here is a followup table with some/all of the columns listed below:

  • Planned inspection date
  • Original planned inspection date by supplier
  • Latest allowed date (or ex-factory date, or ETD)
  • Type of inspection (in-process / final / …)
  • Product name and SKU number
  • Purchase order number
  • Number of man-days of work [to be input by the buyer’s technical team]
  • Supplier name / number
  • Factory province & city

If you use Excel, you can use different color codes to indicate what fields (for example the date) are confirmed vs. pending.

The main purpose is to avoid rush jobs. Chinese factory managers tend to think “ex-factory date is Friday night, so let’s get the inspectors in on Friday afternoon… and let’s tell them on Friday morning”.

They don’t think of the workload (maybe the inspector has 3 days of work). In fact they often purposefully try to cut the time allotted to inspections, and hope the QC job will be more superficial 00 which means that fewer issues will be found.

So it is up to your team to reschedule some jobs and to spread inspections over several days when necessary. Then it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure production is ready on time.

2. Optimizing the allocation of inspectors

There are two objectives your team should try to achieve:

  • Rotate inspectors among factories, to ensure nobody gets too “comfortable” or too “friendly”.
  • Level the workload among your team to avoid having some employees in the field 28 days in a month and others busy for only 8 days.

Ideally you would have a view of who is busy and who is assigned to a job, for each geographical area. Here is way we show it in SynControl (our IT system for inspections).


(We blurred out the names for confidentiality. Names in green indicate available inspectors, and red means they are already assigned to a job.)

3. The controversial topic of penalties

This is an issue that differs company to company, and there are no “best practices” that I know of.

As I wrote before, I am not a very big fan of getting suppliers to pay penalties. But I have noticed that small fines (to the tune of 100 USD) are effective in one way — they force the factory employee in charge of the QC booking process to pay more attention to the rules. In Chinese companies the employer often threatens its staff to deduct the cost of mistakes from salaries, and sometimes they do it!

Let’s look at two different situations:

  • If a supplier genuinely wants to respect your conditions but their internal organization is a mess and they can’t plan ahead, the best is probably to help them improve their production planning system (consultants can help). A well designed whiteboard in the main workshops, coupled with daily meetings run by supervisors who received related training, is a simple first step that can work miracles.
  • However, when a supplier just won’t cooperate and keeps playing games, you should look at the arsenal at your disposal — from small penalties… to a heated meeting in your general manager’s office and possibly the loss of some business.

What do you think?

Your Chinese Manufacturer Can Help Improve Your Product Design!

There is a common belief among many importers that Chinese factories are unable to help during the design phase of a new product. As a result, the importer typically works on design on his side, and then asks the Chinese side to make it a reality.

The reality I see is, the more complex the product, the more the buyer needs input from the manufacturer (who has more intricate knowledge of a process or material). I listed 14 ways the supplier can help.

1. Early Supplier Involvement

A very mature supplier would be able to share a plethora of informational guides to the design team such as:

  • Common components – standardization
  • Material and process limits
  • Best practices from a production point of view
  • New production methods and techniques
  • Cost saving options

Another key attribute to getting your supplier involved as early as possible is the cost of design change. The cost change increases the further into the New Product Development process you get, so understanding limitations from a production point of view while in the design phase could save you not just from a financial aspect but also from a schedule point of view.


2. Before Production Starts

DFM (Design For Manufacturing): look at the processes they and their key subcontractors have, and design a product that will be easy to manufacture (benefits: lower costs, better quality, fewer headaches and delays).

DFP (Design For Procurement): ask the supplier if they have suggestions of changes in materials/accessories. (The supplier will probably suggest these changes on their own.) Be very careful with components purchased “on the local market”. They are usually cheaper but are not always your best choice. Make sure you audit the second-tier suppliers if you plan to purchase high volumes.

Sit down for a design FMEA with the most experienced engineers at the factory (ask “what can go wrong?”). In case the buyer has no technical experience, for best results he should hire an engineer who has experience doing FMEAs and can jump-start the meeting with a few suggestions.

Send a few samples to a testing lab for HALT testing, or do it in the factory’s internal laboratory if they have one.

Document everything, give it to your supplier in written form (with as many photos, drawings, charts etc. as possible), and ask for confirmations and suggestions. In China, many problems only come up to the surface when a manager is asked to confirm something in writing.

3. After Production has Started

Example of Pareto chart

List the defects, rank them by quantity (Pareto chart), look for the root causes (fishbone diagrams, asking “why” 5 times…) of the most frequent defects, and think of the issues that are caused by your design. Then modify your design if that’s practical. Note that the people who can best point to root causes are the operators, engineers, and managers working at the factory.

Ask manufacturing people about difficulties making your product. If practical, modify your design. Again, easier production makes for faster deliveries of higher-quality products, and the supplier will be less inclined to push prices up in the future.

Sit down for a process FMEA with the most experienced engineers at the factory. Not only will it push them to improve their production processes, but it will probably also give them an opportunity to voice where the difficulties lie in making your product.

Send a few samples to a testing lab for HASS testing, or do it in the factory’s internal laboratory if they have one.

What do you think?

4 Tips for Production Launch of an Electronic Product in China

These days it seems more and more “hardware startups” are coming to Shenzhen and working with Chinese manufacturers to launch production of electronic products. And they typically find out that their supplier hasn’t prepared correctly for the launch process.

Many of these startups have little manufacturing experience and don’t know where to pay the most attention. They tend to rely too much on the OEM supplier and overlook several critical factors that we listed below.

1. Starting off on the right foot

Incoming Quality Control

The quality of the final product directly depends upon the quality of the components that go into it; therefore, it is essential that all parts are inspected before they are used in any final assembly. An unfortunate habit of many Chinese suppliers is to buy substandard components in order to make more margin. If you discover this after half the order quantity is finished, it is way too late.

A procedure for inspecting all incoming components and parts is necessary. This is the stage where any faulty parts delivered by the supplier should be identified and put to one side and quarantined, thus preventing them from being distributed to production.

All Incoming Quality Control (IQC) should be carried out in accordance to a sampling plan. If you shoot for high quality a good sampling plan would be based on the following standard: ISO2959-1, LEVEL II, SINGLE SAMPLING with an acceptance quality limit (AQL) of: Critical Defects: 0.4%, Major Defect: 0.65%, Minor Defect: 1.0%. Make sure you tell your supplier about this in advance, since it is considered pretty strict by most Chinese factories.

For most electronic products, many components are purchased by the OEM manufacturer. Ideally you can screen and qualify the critical sub-suppliers rather than relying on your direct supplier.

Inspectors Responsibility

Best practice for electronic component inspection begins with product handling.  Ideally inspectors would take the Electrostatic Discharge Sensitive Safety Standard (ESDS) training and continue to use all the correct procedures throughout their work. This knowledge is critical for receiving inspections and shipping preparation.

Purpose of IQC

  1. To distinguish good lots from bad lots
  2. To distinguish good pieces from bad pieces.
  3. To determine if the sub-suppliers’ process is changing.
  4. To determine if the sub-suppliers’ process is approaching the specification limits.
  5. To rate quality of components.
  6. To measure the precision of the measuring instrument.
  7. To secure products – design information.
  8. To evaluate supplier performance

2. Good Planning

Having suppliers deliver good quality components and goods with virtually zero defects is obviously the ideal scenario, however, without good planning your product launch could possibly go astray with respect to scheduling from a launch date.

To ensure your new product has a smooth and successful launch and to maximize productivity you need a solid production plan, however generating an effective plan is a complex process. A cross functional team need to work together to ensure that materials, equipment and human resources are available when and where they are needed.

A production plan is like a roadmap: it helps you know where and when you are going and how long it will take to get there. I am shocked at how few factories do a proper plan. If they simply give you a shipment date, it is a red flag.

You must request a detailed plan that shows when each component will be delivered, when they will train the operators, when they will do small runs, when they will do mass production, etc. And then you need to check with a manufacturing expert whether the plan is realistic.

3. Flow Line Organization

In order to prepare the flowline for a new product introduction it is paramount that prototypes and pre-production units have already been run. This allows for machine setting and line parameters to be understood and recorded so that every aspect of the flow line is ready for the first production run.

Making sure the flow line is organized from start to finish includes all the peripheral elements such as feeders, inspection stations both in-line and off-line as well as making sure all the equipment has been set up and functioning correctly.


If you want to check how well organized your OEM manufacturer is, I advise to send an engineer to conduct a process audit.

4. Measure and Improve

Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) is a structured problem-solving method. Each phase builds on the previous one, with the goal of implementing long-term solutions to problems.


The DMAIC method is the preferred method for improving a system that has either high risk or the problems are complex (note that, on an SMT flowline, both of these scenarios fit within these criteria). Optimizing the production flow line and eliminating problems and issues, as well as having an evergreen improvement plan in place, will ensure your new product has a relatively smooth launch.

Surviving Higher Costs in China: Conference in Guangzhou

If you are in South China in early December and if you have an interest in sourcing-related issues, you should consider attending this conference organized by the European Chamber of Commerce:

Profitable Sourcing – How to survive in a more expensive China

Here is the general outline of the conference:

In recent years, most procurement professionals were looking for alternatives to China, in anticipation for very fast cost increases. Their level of success has varied in function of their industry and their sourcing model. Following the Chinese economic slowdown, the weakness of domestic consumption, and the RMB devaluation, experts are revising their predictions. Many buying offices might still work primarily with Chinese suppliers in years to come.

What trends to expect in the upcoming year?

What strategies and industries have a bright future in China?

What types of market positioning will lead to certain failure? 

 Join us to learn from experts about the best sourcing practices and share your opinion with other professionals during our Forum.

The Chamber will be adding the profiles of speakers and panelists (total about 5) soon. You can already register by clicking here.

The date is 3 December in the afternoon.

I hope to see you there!