Many people in Europe and in the US think of factories are large organizations where everyone follows a standard procedure. Quality and lead times are consistent because of detailed planning, and because it doesn’t matter if a few cogs don’t come to work in that gigantic gear system one morning.
Well, this is representative of less than 1% of Chinese factories. Over 90% of them should be compared to a small restaurant instead. And I am thinking of your neighborhood restaurant, not a McDonald’s or a Subway place.
The JLMade blog just published an article (A Lot Like Dining Out) that develops this same analogy. Here are two examples from that post:
Consistency: We just went to this place two weeks ago. We go back this weekend, order the same dishes and there are noticeable differences. The ingredients, the consistency, the taste…all different.
In manufacturing, the same will happen with your order. Regardless if it is the 3rd or 4th time you’ve ordered the same product, without the proper control there will be glaring differences. The differences could be results of multiple factors: changed material vendors, different guy mixing the paint, the old production line boss moved to a different facility, etc… Regardless of the reason something is going to be different.
Reaction: And your production facility will be no different than the waitress once you inform them of a problem. They will at first giggle nervously, and say sorry and their main goal is not quickly making it right, but they are deep down hoping you’ll shut-up about the issue, take it as it is and go away. Remember, when dealing with China, nothing, never, no way is EVER anybody’s fault.
Informing your factory about issues that have already been done is futile and you’ll be wasting your breath. Instead control up front, make things as clear as possible from the beginning and monitor processes along the way.
Actually, I already read a comparison between Chinese factories and Chinese restaurants, in One Small China Restaurant Writ Large. Really Large. (published on the China Law Blog).
Here is the typical cycle that many local restaurants go through:
1. Restaurant opens with nice space, really good chef, plenty of staff, and no skimping on ingredients.
2. Restaurant gets really popular and then chef asks for more money and when that is refused, he or she leaves. New, cheaper chef comes in and food quality starts to decline.
3. Decline in quality from #2 above leads to a small decline in customers.
4. Seeking to make up for the decline in customers, the restaurant owner starts skimping on the ingredients. Maybe they go from top quality fresh spices to cheaper dried spices.
5. Decline in the quality of ingredients leads to a decline in the number of customers.
6. Seeking to make up for the decline in customers, the restaurant owner lays off some staff and starts skimping on overall upkeep of the restaurant.
7. Decline in customers accelerates and restaurant eventually shuts down.
8. Owner blames new restaurant down the street for the problems.
The point is, it also happens a lot with local manufacturers. The owner might spend a lot of time entertaining customers (and getting entertained by suppliers), while the show is run by a production manager. That’s the key person, like the chef. If he leaves, the factory’s reliability might suddenly go down.
How to make sure you work with a well-organized manufacturer, rather than an informal operation run by one key manager? Perform an ISO 9000 audit on them.
What do you think?