Getting in Front of Problems

  • Is it true because it's true or because you'd rather not exert serious effort in controlling this factory? A few thoughts about getting in front of problems in China manufacturing.

In China sourcing, a chunk of miscommunication and mass production messes are because of failure to get in front of problems. Suppliers are bashful to admit in advance why something may take a turn for the worse. Buyers won’t acknowledge failure and in order to CYA or money, they push issues off onto the supplier. Whatever the reason, being able to recognize potential problems and cut them off at the pass, will save a world of hurt. 

Getting in front of problems or lack thereof has consequences in your China manufacturing projects.

The lion’s share of lack of taking ownership of a problem is going to stem from the suppliers’ side of the spectrum.

Supplier’s side of tackling issues.

They largely won’t do it and will be passive when addressing problems. The hard part isn’t simply the supplier not taking ownership of problems after the fact; and this is bad enough. The excruciating part is that the majority of suppliers are not proactively considering “next-steps”. They are not viewing the production schedule, the product requirements or whatever aspect of the project and thinking, “what’s the ramifications of this?”.

  • “If we do this, what’s going to happen to this?”
  • “We agreed to do this process, but in hindsight, should we let the client know something may happen.”
  • “We quoted this many production days, but we’re seeing obstacles for some of the processes and we don’t want to rush it in order not to compromise quality. We better inform the client now so they can make provision for the difference.”
  • Those are sentences you may hear from a factory if they’re being proactive.

    Attention, suppliers, hark!

    It will be a lot easier and less painful to the buyer if you tell them in advance. This way, the buyer can work on solutions. Knowing earlier, can turn problems into obstacles that can be overcome.

    Knowing later in the process, suppliers, causes the client to think you were being dishonest and had ulterior motives. Suppliers need to get bolder in approaching buyers with bad news.

    What can you expect though? Most importer don’t buy a lot. What you buy as an importer may be a lot to you, but in the grand scheme of things to the factory, it’s not a lot of money. How glued in to cases should suppliers be? Is it realistic to expect each vendor you deal with to be able to provide you possible contingencies for scenarios?

    The answer is yes and no.

    You should be able to expect factory’s to get in front of problems and perform basic communication and action-based solution to avoid or correct.

    The problem is, unless you’re a preferred customer (and even then, the chances are low), most Chinese factories aren’t going to be proactive in rooting out and preparing for possibilities.

    Factories basically operate like a car driving down on an old country road at night, in the fog and can only see 2 feet in front them. This is why a common cry through gritted teeth is “why didn’t the factory tell me earlier?

    Therefore the bulk of problem tackling and proactive diligence falls on the buyers’ side.

    That is, the bulk of getting in front of problems falls on the buyers’ side if you want the project to be as good as it could possibly be.

    Be approachable.

    Establish yourself as a solution-oriented business partner. If your supplier, who hates confrontation, knows you’ll fall apart like a 2-dollar suitcase, they’ll be less motivated to come to you with issues. They’ll keep sweeping the obvious under the rug.

    Keep communication lines open. Show the supplier you understand manufacturing and the real problems that do arise.

    It’s unfortunate when a factory brings a real issue to a buyer and the buyer doesn’t want to gain an understanding of the technical aspect of their own production. Like an angry despot they just want to wave their hand and say, “I don’t care, just fix it!”

    Be consistent in your own control.

    In short, if a certain quality aspect makes or breaks the project, why would you not be consistently controlling that aspect of the project?

    Consistently scan back through your order specs, assuring you’re up-to-speed on order status. Make sure the factory not only understands what was confirmed, but they’re implementing.

    Thoughtfully consider your project; specifically think about things. “The supplier said they could do that print process on this material, but I’ve never seen that in the market. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t. I better ask for further evidence of their ability”.

    If you know one aspect of the order is super tough, then this is the area that requires tight control. You’re not resting on your laurels, but like a goalie, on the balls of your feet, ready to swat away problems that may fly.

    Be realistic in your China project management.

    There will be obvious signs that mass production isn’t going to go well.

    Too often, it seems that buyers choose to believe something or place full trust in a vendor, because that’s more convenient (easier?) than believing reality.

    Successful buyers have to shun the “coin-operated purchase” mindset and know they’re going to have to control, dig, ask questions and establish relationships.

    Whose to blame? The party that agreed to something that has slim chances of success or the party who blindly believes everything will be ok?

    There’s a balance; instead of operating on “hope” or “the factory should do their job”, there’s a proper control.

    This is how you get in front of problems.

    By the way, for importers that work on tight lead times, here’s a list of red flags that show an order delay creeping up on the horizon.

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