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Best practices for management of China inspectors

by Renaud Anjoran

A few weeks ago, we held a seminar about the best way to hire, train, and manage inspectors.

I usually joke that “best practices” are make up and hyped up by consultants. Who can come up with advice that is not only applicable, but also “the best”, to virtually all companies?

But this time it was different. Everyone in the room had similar experiences and aspirations, when it came to several topics.

1. The importance of clear and detailed specifications

If there are no specifications, inspectors cannot be expected to stop problems. All they can do is simple visual checks, plus a few common-sense tests. But what is common-sensical to a Chinese inspector is not necessarily what the buyer or the end user want.

If there are good specifications as well as a reference sample, in many cases there is no need to send staff who are specialist in the product’s category.

But how to do if nobody in the office has the product expertise to write the specs?

Fortunately, there are solutions:

  • Use your inspectors during their down time. From experience, they can point to potential problems.
  • Go in the factory and talk to technicians. Ask them to describe the product.
  • Get a sample and describe it yourself. Start simple, and little by little add more details as you get to know the product better.

2. The danger of overseeing the “blindingly obvious”

When a detailed specification sheet is available, the main risk is that the inspector rushes to check point 1, then point 2, and so on.

They often forget to take a step back and ask themselves “does it look right?”

One speaker noted that 80% of the quality problems his inspectors did not catch were “blindingly obvious”.

For example, a product passed in-process inspections for all complex technical checkpoints, BUT was rejected in the final inspection because it was green instead of yellow!

3. The necessity of regular evaluations

Sending an inspector in the field without supervision and without giving him/her feedback is dangerous.

But how often should they get formal feedback? Three months seems like the right interval for evaluations, which should be based on several criteria: the way the job is performed, a grade from the purchasers, the suppliers’ input (to take with a grain of salt), and so on.

Once you start giving feedback with granular details, you can track improvement and tie bonuses to it.

4. The right type of training & evaluation

So giving regular feedback is good, but how to do it?

The best is to shadow inspectors and to give them feedback about the different parts of their job (sampling, testing, visual check, debrief to factory…).

As I wrote before, classroom training is not very effective in China. Employees here tend to be knowledgeable in theory but not in practice.

5. The difference between QC inspectors and quality engineers

Finding good engineers with production experience, with problem solving abilities, and who can speak English is very hard in China.

The reason is simple: those who learn English at university virtually never go to work in the production or quality department of a factory.

But there are exceptions. For example, some engineers manage to learn English at age 30 or 35.

The ONE topic that caused a heated debate…

… is the way to structure the inspectors’ pay.

In most third-party inspection firms, the staff gets reimbursed against “fapiaos” (official receipts), but many of them are fake. They consider it part of the compensation!

The problem is, if they lie to their employer and do not follow the rules, how can they be expected to respect the inspection procedure?

It seems there are two workable solutions, when it comes to expense reports:

  • Give them a fixed amount for traveling from X to Y, and do not bother about the exact cost.
  • Reimburse travel expenses against fapiaos, and check them very seriously. But sometimes, getting a real fapiao is not even possible…

The same issue comes up with over-time hours. Pay them according to the law, and your inspectors will try to work long hours, on purpose. Do not pay them, and be potentially outside the law — which opens the door to conflicts when you want to fire someone.

What was your experience? How do you manage travel expense reports and OT?

Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on

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