The Chinese approach to quality assurance

I spent part of last week with one of my clients’ quality assurance manager. I recognized certain patterns that are widespread in factories and buying offices here, and that are very detrimental to quality.

Here are the two bad habits that I see over and over again:

1. Failing to set up a system

The Chinese seldom try to develop a system based on good processes. This is at the root of the increasing number of large-scale failures in the country.

Chinese managers often put pressure on inspectors to catch all problems, and “we’ll see if the general quality level has increased next time I visit this factory”.

I think this is a mistake. It is extremely important to spend time on the means to get to that objective (not to mention, to define that objective in a measurable way).

Consequence: no ability to audit the respect of the quality system

Since there is no system, nothing can be audited. And that’s a pity. Inspectors can’t properly be evaluated and coached along the way. It might also be impossible to understand why a lapse in quality happened… and how to prevent it next time.

Don’t get me wrong. A system can be very basic, to start with. With a few hours of work, it is possible to show a factory’s inspectors how to fill out a simple form every time they finish checking a reference, and how to communicate & archive their reports.

2. Not relying on data to take decisions

Understanding the context (cooperation from the factory, manufacturing ability, etc.) is a good start. But nothing beats a conclusion based on hard data.

My client’s QA manager didn’t look at the causes of failure in past inspection reports. I know she didn’t even read a single report, because she is new on the job and she didn’t ask me any information.

Consequence: failure to focus on the most critical steps.

QA & QC efforts are not focused on the main risks. As a result, inspectors have to rush on the job and cut corners (remember, they don’t have a system to follow and they are not directly accountable anyway)… When they overlook an issue and they take the blame for it, was it their fault?

Where do these habits come from?

Chinese culture probably plays a role:

  • Chinese employees are usually afraid of accountability. They prefer not to give a green light in a written form. But it is important to help them understand how to do their job properly — then everything becomes easier.
  • And they often say they aspire to “freedom”, by which they mean “no rules, no constraints, no authority”. My conclusion is that rules should be adapted to the situation and that the staff should be able to suggest changes in these rules. But we really, really can’t do without rules.

However, I have seen many foreigners commit these same mistakes. Conversely, many Chinese production/quality managers understand all these concepts and do a superb job.

Therefore I don’t want to generalize too much. It all comes down to the awareness of quality management principles, I guess.

What do you think?


  1. says

    So true. Good points in your article. Creating a system to manage production not only helps get the quality right, but also has a big impact on keeping costs down and meeting lead times. If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it, if you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. So it all starts with a documented system. I put years of work into the template for my system at my shop in Shenzhen and happy to show it to your readers:

    Best regards
    Mike Bellamy

  2. Renaud Anjoran says

    You are very right. If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it, if you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. The point is that people here don’t want to be controlled 😉

  3. says

    Renaud – as always your work and subsequent blog entries are invaluable to those of us in small companies without dedicated employees on the ground in China.
    Mike – thanks for sharing the document. While we don’t have to drill down that far into assembly – this is easily tweaked to work for my needs – and really many others.
    Best regards,