I had a good laugh a few days ago when Mike, from the CSIC, told importers to “ask potential suppliers to show you what project management software they use, and get ready for a reply of a blank stare or silence”, in one of his presentations on the Global Sources fairs.
As Mike suggests, buyers who expect the factory to provide project management will be disappointed.
Most Chinese suppliers are very disorganized
A few trading companies (above a certain size) in Hong Kong have a proper IT system. In mainland China, 99% of intermediaries use nothing but emails and their memory.
If you go to a small or midsize factory in China, chances are they will be incapable of showing you any scheduling & planning system, any order management system, any quality management system.
What they will tell you is, “we do QC at this stage of production, and also at this one, and also at this one; we check every single piece so you don’t need to worry because our quality is excellent and our customer satisfaction rate is 99%”. But even these claims are usually false (from personal experience).
The most advanced system they have is often the count of the number of pieces produced by each worker. You’d think, they can use these raw data and put together a planning system, right? Forget about it…
This is why a salesperson might tell you “yes, we’ll ship next week”, while the technicians–working 2 floors above–know they are late. Communication doesn’t flow easily here.
So, who should wear the project manager hat?
The buyer, or a service company appointed by the buyer.
Unfortunately, asking for updates is not always welcome. As my friend Jacob writes, “Chinese feel it is a sign of distrust if you insist on being updated on your project and they can get quite indignant about the whole matter. And requesting photos….that’s a whole other topic.”
Again, my conclusion is that you’ll have a hard time managing your Chinese suppliers unless you work with them for the long term and you change their mindset over time.