Standards, procedures, statistical sampling, testing.
I’m not an expert, but we all know that statistical quality control is what makes the difference between a good company and a great one. But statistical quality control here in China is not quite ready for prime time. You might say, it’s non existent. It’s just not in the culture. Suppliers are chosen based on personal relationships, not verifiable quality standards. Hopefully, the fact of a personal relationship supplies incentive in the quality department, but it doesn’t supply tools. Western newspapers are presently full of stories that illustrate failures of quality systems where Chinese suppliers are involved.
Stories also circulate about fraud and about companies creating paperwork to document quality systems that don’t exist. They get caught when they, well, get caught. A purchaser is wise to verify all facts independently. That is, if they can be verified. Sometimes the truth can be painful, literally.
I was talking with a friend the other day who told me what happened when her company tried to do a quality audit of one of their suppliers. The auditor was finding things that were not good. Rather than say "thank you" for finding issues that could then be resolved, to root out the issues and put systems in place to address them, the factory manager attacked the auditor. Literally. He had the quality auditor beaten up and kicked out of the factory. They had to take him to the hospital for first aid.
One, seemingly simple, answer to the quality problem is to switch suppliers, but here’s the rub for my friend’s company. They’re a small company. While they’re placing orders for just 1,000 widgets at a time, big American companies jumping on the China bandwagon are placing orders for 100,000 widgets at a time. In light of this level of demand, their suppliers have no motive to meet quality standards. They have to switch, and switch, and switch. Even when they find a good company, quality depends more on the particular manager and so when that manager leaves, they are back to square one.
I’d like to invite comment or speculation on cultural factors that contribute to quality issues. I can think of a couple.
For one, this is culturally a place where there is a lot of pride. To be open to improve something, one must first be open to the idea that there is room for improvement. If someone is heavily vested in justifying the way things are, in proving that the status quo is superior, then that gets in the way of finding ways to improve.
Second, there is a value to being frugal, but at some point being penny wise becomes pound foolish. What good does it do a company to buy a cheaper screw, if the entire widget breaks because the cheaper screw isn’t strong enough? Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many examples of companies focused only on the cost of that one screw.
Embedded in the inordinate focus on cutting cost, at the expense of quality, is a difference in the analytical process by which factors that go into making a widget are sorted out: the screws and bolts and fabric and threads, cost of equipment to make it, cost of returns, whatever. In this sense, I think that western, more linear, styles of data analysis are superior to eastern, more holistic styles of analysis.
Well, that’s my two cents, and those thoughts are probably worth exactly what you paid to read this. But, it’s a thought and I’d love to hear comments, especially with examples!