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How to draft your production schedule with your China suppliers

by David Chen

Why do you need to develop a production schedule with your suppliers?

People tend to think that they can be assured of a smooth order process and compliance of delivery and quality when there is a contract agreed upon, which defines the product, the delivery time and the commercial terms. However, they do not realize that they need more insights of the production plan with the factory to have better control of their orders.

Chinese factories may or may not have good planning skills. Some factories do not plan at all. Some of them put the production on for the customer who yells the loudliest.  They may give you a “leadtime” out of their experience that your order is going to take 30 days and they put it on the paperwork, without even verifying if they can source the material within the timeframe required to enable the leadtime he promises.

You need to help them understand that as a customer you care about a clear plan which gives everybody a full picture of what should happen at what time to ensure the timely delivery of the order.

The production schedule gives the parties involved a tool to deal with changes along the way. For example, if the packaging production task is dependent on the completion of artworks by the customer, then when the customer delays due to an internal interruption, the block of timeslot of the packaging production on the side of the factory then must move along resulting from this delay. Everyone can understand visually the impact of such event.

A well devised production plan gives both parties a chance to assess by what means the production can be speeded up. For example by overlapping tasks or by investing more resources. This benefit is most apparent when a bar chart is used.

The production plan let the factory rethink if they are really resourceful to complete the order as promised with the current work load of his equipment, workforce and raw materials. The agreement between the customer and the factory may be altered so a more reasonable commitment is made. This is very important especially in the case where the customer himself needs to commit to his customer.

What should a production schedule look like?

A production schedule serving the purpose of a tool to manage the whole process of the order delivery should demonstrate at least the below elements.

  • Tasks that represent the completion of 100% of the overall project. If any task without which the project can not be completed, the product schedule is not adequate
  • Start Date and End Date of each task
  • The ownership of the tasks, which means who is responsible for the completion of a certain task
  • The inter-relationship among the tasks. Such information defines whether two tasks can move along in parallel, whether one task is dependent on another task

How to develop a good production schedule?

Before you set out to force your supplier to comply with your need to develop a production schedule, get him convinced and on board that beyond the contractual terms on quality and delivery, both of you need to attain a mutual understanding of the components of the project and their timed interrelation to manage the process collaboratively.

Providing a concrete live sample or explain in very plain words of what an ideal production plan should look like to your factory. You can also ask him to share his format of “planning” he used to manage his production schedule which is very likely to be too simplistic to serve the purpose of mutual management.

Hold a meeting or exchange rich content emails if the situation does not allow a face-to-face meeting to list all the tasks required to complete the project. Procurement of outsourced materials and components, production of key parts in house, logistics are the three first level decomposition that you can break your order up to. Ask your factory what materials and components are outsourced. What parts of the product are manufactured separately, what are the processing steps of the key components. The logistics section is normally pretty standard and straight forward which you can apply a standard task list to although in some cases additional steps may be required. For example, in China some consumer product may require an official inspection by the China Inspection and Quarantine Bureau which may takes up to 5 days.

When you are comfortable that the list of tasks for completion, you will need to figure out the time required for them to be completed one after another. Also you need to find out the interrelationship among the tasks so as to reflect them in the tool or format you are using to visualize them.


David Chen is the co-founder and account manager at Sourcing Spectrum, a sourcing agency dedicated to helping overseas clients manage sources in China. Tips and information can be found at www.sourcingspectrum.com/blog.

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