How to follow your production in China

Supplier ManagementI wrote several times that the most organized buyers adopt a project management approach. Mike Bellamy just published a very good video that explains why, and how, importers can follow this approach to manage their production in China.

First, Mike notes that importers should not count on their suppliers’ management system:

While China has some amazing pricing, it is not known for excellent quality or short lead times. This means that the placement of the PO is the start of the supplier management process in China, not the end. It is very rare for suppliers, even ones that are as large as 1000 employees, to have proper project managment software which clearly defines and tracks who is doing what, by when, within their organization.

To the contrary, usually there is an account manager or sales person that takes point on walking your project thru all the steps from production to delivery.

Salespeople are good at sales or can speak English, but most aren’t engineers, certified project managers, or even know their way around a production line.

Very true… The salespeople seldom have a full understanding of the realities and constraints of production. Since they need to speak good English, they all went to college… And not a single one of them has experience working on the production floor.

Worse, they simply repeat what their coworkers tell them without checking. Sometimes, a production has not started in the workshop, but some people sitting in the same building believe it is near completion!

So, what should buyers do? How can they follow their production?

This may sound obvious, but if you and your supplier don’t have a system for project management then you need to be proactive and create one. For example, a simple excel sheet listing action items, project gates, deadlines, and responsible parties is a huge improvement over trying to manage via email. Have this open project list serve as the agenda for periodic conference calls with your supplier. Once the tasks are mutually agreed, save this document for future reference. Keep a record of each week’s agreed steps.

Now, one word of caution. Be tactful. As my friend Etienne from Procur’Asia commented in response to a recent article on this blog:

Attitude (at both side) and the way we check and request updates is really important. I have seen many requests for update sent to suppliers by email that are just a one liner and lead to either a one liner ping-pong game or a flaming chain of email. Not the way to project-manage a p.o.

The key is to build the relationship with regular face-to-face meetings. This way, you’ll know how to ask for updates, and you’ll be more likely to receive them. In Mike’s words:

Make sure you communicate with the suppliers on a regular basis. If you aren’t asking for updates, you are unlikely to receive them. Be in contact when there is good news to share so that you don’t become the “headache client” who contacts the factory only when things are bad.

Sounds like excellent advice.

What do you think?