Chinese whispers – why factories get it wrong sometimes


Chinese whispers – why factories get it wrong sometimes

Many importers currently dealing with Chinese factories will already know that manufacturing there can be wrought with complexity. They don’t always deliver on time, on spec and on budget as the project managers like to put it.

Few importers though, will bother themselves to understand the complexities that exist within the factory that significantly impact their ability to deliver. By having visibility into the manufacturing process, you can better manage the risks!

Visibility in an important tool for importers -it means understanding the many manufacturing issues that could impact their project and being able to respond to them. In Chinese factories, visibility can be a difficult given that communications are complicated by language and cultural barriers. Importers, rely on email, skype, phone calls and the occasional quick trip to China to visit the factory.

This means much of the onus is on the factory to update the importer on developments – both good and bad.ĹžovĂˠSo what is happening in Chinese factories and how does this affect the products we import?

Whilst we shouldn’t generalise about why factories get it wrong- as there are plenty of factories that manufacture to an excellent standard – there are those that present the same common challenges. One such challenge is the challenge of communication, which can be seen at many different levels.

order Lyrica Your Sales Manager – your import success hinges on their communication skills

When working with a Chinese manufacturer, your first point of contact is the sales and marketing department. This department plays a significant role, being required to not only source new customers but also service them, passing on all your product specifications to the production department (who are generally Chinese speaking only). Employees in this Sales role must firstly have an English (or other) language competency, that allows them to communicate with their export market customers – i.e. you the importer. As a general rule, this is a highly sought after role with good advancement prospects for any Chinese employee. And for this reason, you will notice that good Sales Managers are often not long in one position, tending to job shop due to their high demand.

Communication at the beginning of a manufacturing project is critical. The Sales Manager must understand and then pass on your product information to the relevant departments within the factory. When you are fortunate to work with a Sales Manager that has great language skills, understands the manufacturing process and is efficient, you are off to a good start. If they are lazy, overburdened, have limited English or only a basic understanding of the manufacturing process, then this could be a warning sign. A communication blockage at the beginning of a project could result in the wrong product being produced, unclear lead times, unapproved materials changes, and unforseen costs.

Nepotism in this position is also a recurring feature. Given the prestige attached to being a Sales Manager in China, it is often a position filled by family members, partners or friends. In a shoe factory we know, this role is held by the owner’s nephew. The nephew has no English language or shoe making experience, nor is there an expectation for him to gain these skills. Simply turning up is considered sufficient. Even worse there is no recourse for poor performance, laziness or when he makes blatant mistakes.

Having this barrier limits our client’s ability to pass on product information efficiently. It also means monitoring the progress of sample making and full scale production is almost impossible. This can be a costly process, as the client in this situation is forced to wait until the products are 100% complete before they can assess whether or not the products have been made according to the specifications. How do you address the Sales Manager challenge?

Find out who your Sales Manager is, what their experience is and whether they are happy working in the company they are with.

Monitor their performance and always double check their work. Communicate with them daily to ensure they do not forget you. On the flip side, do not burden them with longwinded wordy emails. Set out the facts in plain English and ensure you product requirements are prepared in a detailed specification sheet – not over the course of ten emails. Make sure you also have realistic expectations and don’t leave change to the last minute, then expect immediate results. Expletives, CAPITAL LETTERS and ‘!!!!!’ are all clearly understood in China, so think twice before firing off an angry email, you may be firing at your only messenger.

A factories internal communications – a case of Chinese whispers!

If you understand the internal dynamics of a Chinese factory, you will have an appreciation of how the manufacturing process can easily go wrong.Aside from external factors such as labour shortages and environmental challenges, factories must also deal with the daily business of communication internally. A normal factory can have up to 10 departments that must all communicate with each other to coordinate the production of the goods – a complicated process when communications tools are mostly manual, i.e. verbal communications and hard copy documents. In certain factories this is truly a case of Chinese Whispers!

We have found in the past that Sales Managers will forward your order to the Purchasing Department, who inturn issue the materials order to their Supplier. Once the materials arrive, there is no double checking procedure and production commences. It’s not until the goods are produced and the importer sees them that the wrong materials are identified – making this a costly learning process.

Sometimes this old style of communication works, but for others it can result is the production of products that do not meet your specifications. This is why it’s so important for you to send through concise instructions sheets and drawings. These instructions will be downloaded and then passed onto the production manager to interpret. If the instructions have been sent through over the course of ten emails, along with changes half way through, you are enhancing an already problematic communication process.

So how can you be expected to get transparency in the manufacturing process?

• Get involved or pay an independent party to get involved on your behalf, either way someone representing your interests needs to be there.
• Do not make assumptions; they will get you into trouble every time.
• Use every tool available to you to ensure comprehension, including specification sheets, samples and testing and always get a sample first.
• Learn the language and the culture to overcome hidden obstacles, or use someone that can do this for you.
• Spend money to get help. The money you will invest in planning and risk management will be counter balanced by the cost of faulty products if you don’t spend it.
• Plan for the what-ifs, if they happen you will be ready to respond quickly. Finally, share the knowledge.

The reality of importing from low cost countries like China is that you need a higher level of involvement in the manufacturing process. By making yourself aware of the likely challenges you will be able to put in place a strategy to manage them before it’s too late. Whilst choosing a good factory is a great start, there are many levels of communication required to achieve the outcome, so you will be well advised to make sure your communications are clear and understood at all stages of the production process.

Companies that are successfully outsourcing their manufacturing projects to China are highly involved in the process. They send their key people to the factory and have staff on the ground to identify and correct problems as they arise.

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