Friday, January 14, 2011

Know What’s Happening with Your Order

Typical Holiday Door Coverings

Chinese New Year:  for all practical purposes it’s here if not knocking on the door. 

We had an order to be rushed out, ahead of schedule because the workers were hurrying to rush home.  I don’t blame them.  The workers in factories, for the most part, work very hard for very low pay.  This is the time of year, they want to kick back, go to their hometown and slip away to a time period that was simpler, easier… They spend time with family, play cards, share memories with loved ones and for 20+ days forget about production lines, money issues and the obstacles they encounter day-to-day. Most of them have the basic goal of providing for their families that are usually in a distant city.    

 Thankfully JLmade’s order is in good condition. This is my 8th Chinese New Year here, on the ground and in managing production, JLmade’s 7th Chinese New Year as a company, so we were not completely in the dark.  We had the idea something like this could happen and made prevision for it. 

Fireworks for the Holiday
I recall one year we were manufacturing wallets that were going in retail in Spain:  the factory quickly rushed them out before confirmation to start, therefore key quality issues were overlooked.

Aside from the craziness of Chinese New Year, most of this is avoidable and controllable.        

It’s dangerous in order control when you don’t know what phase your order is in.

A key to good production control:  know what’s happening with your order at any given time. 

To control timing, processes and quality, you should have a running spreadsheet that shows which day starts what process.   In knowing this you’re all the more ahead of the game.  You can intelligently discuss the processes with your factory, proactively control possible timing and quality– to know what to look for, when and where.

Communication:  It’s going to take communication with your factory.  Check other posts here on factory communication.  But for knowing what processes happen when, you’re going to need breakdown any communication barriers. 

Processes:  Make a list of all the processes. 

This includes but not limited to:   

Material purchasing & preparation:  after this process, have the factory show you images of prepped material, to assure what was confirmed in sample will be used in mass production. 

Time waiting to be on production line: this could be the time to catch any possible mistakes before you reach "the-point-of-no-return" (see below)

Time on the production line:  this has the sub-points of what processes happen on the production line…are they assembling, are they cutting material, printing, etc.. where are they?

Packing, Inland China Logistics

Knowing when to make balance payment to avoid delay in shipment:  impossible to push for a strict delivery time if you aren’t strict in living up to the payment part of the contract.

Make this list of processes.  Do as much work in advance as you can on preparing the list.  Then, send it to your factory and have them confirm if it’s correct, if you have the steps in order and how much time is needed for each process.  Ask your factory if there are additional steps to add.  It will not be perfect starting out, but as you start and learn to tweak, you are less likely to run into problems. 

Points-of-No-Return:  Listing the process helps you know the stages that once the factory hits, there is no turning back. 

Take for example the promotional product industry:  many, many times, after an order is confirmed, I’ve seen buyers (whether brands, distributor, supplier) come back and ask for something to be different; color, size, print…whatever.  In this method of controlling your processes, you will know when it is too late to make any possible alterations to the item.

Another danger in moving production up before scheduling is the factory is very likely to miss sending production images for confirmation;  you want to make sure before they go further, past those key points, you’ve seen production images and can confirm they are indeed on the right path. 

Insist your factory email images.  Detail your factory on what you need to see to provide accurate confirmations.

Starting out, factory may not freely offer info, have to insist

 Delivery Time:  This, ladies and gentlemen, is a way to accurately know your quoted delivery time.  Instead of asking the factory to confirm a delivery time and then basing all your hope and planning on what they say, have them CONFIRM how this is to happen.  Then, while they are analyzing this plan, unknowns will come to light, they will know what process they possibly did not consider in quoting…this is how you work to know the real delivery time. 

Back to Communication:  Once you have your sheet up and running; hold your supplier accountable to it.  Follow up with them every other day or so, making sure processes are where they need to be.  Once you work with the factory more, they can get accustomed to this process.

Many production mishaps take place because the buyer listened to what the supplier said instead of delving deeper to make sure what they said was accurate.

Something as simple as this: make it as detailed as you'd like, but use a timeline
The Chinese supplier is quoting, managing and handling massive amounts of production all day long.  They are not considering that you are taking their words and then writing them in stone.  For the most part everything the factory says to you has an unspoken “subject to change clause”.  You need to make provision for this.  (This is even more accurate when you are not doing repeat mass volume orders, but more promotional industry product orders, this rings ever true).

Most likely in your offshore production, you’ve got a good chunk of money invested.  It makes sense to know the folks who are manufacturing your order are in what stage, when and how.  Be inquisitive.  Turn yourself in a private detective and find out the facts.  May take a lot of energy and time upfront but as you get used to it, you’ll be glad you did and it will save pain and agony on the backend once you found quality issues you were able to avoid.

Comment…let me know what you think, if you agree, disagree or any helpful tips to add on.

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