Quality assurance leaders hold people’s lives in their hands. To quote a sourcing director for a global food chain: “What keeps me awake at night is the constant worry over every aspect of our supply chain, as well as our vendors’ supply chains.”
We understand that despite all their best efforts, checks and balances, supply chain quality control is a constantly shifting game with some grey areas. QA is both an art and a science.
The remit of QA leaders has been widening exponentially, growing ever more complex and demanding with every new production technique, every new sub-contractor, new trade law, new raw material, new fashion trend, new environmental concern, and new human rights campaign.
With their brands and possibly human lives at stake, brand owners and retailers must not only run tight ships at their own factories, but also oversee a variety of production standards at dozens to hundreds of suppliers’ factories, their suppliers’ factories and so on, continuously moving upstream along the value chain. You can be a mere sub-contracting manufacturer, or even a mere raw material supplier, but the issue of QA is now being scrutinized by a growing community of stakeholders and not just your clients.
While the community as a whole recognizes the importance of QA, no one can dare guarantee zero error.
“QA helps define who we are to our final customers. We can have the best marketing and brand management, but if we don’t deliver quality in the execution of the product, everything else won’t matter,” says another Asia Pacific supply chain director at a major clothing manufacturer.
In any case, the least companies should do, is to minimize the defects.
That certain something
This is where the training and experience of QA managers come in – and this is not an easy job.
They also need something more – something not quite quantifiable, but yet critical. “You need a passion for excellence and must evaluate every process with a zero tolerance for error. There should be no compromises,” says Christophe Roussel, Tesco’s international sourcing and logistics director.
Companies also need in their QA managers people with high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) – the ability to conduct and assess situations, as well as with high Emotional Quotient (EQ) – for connecting, communicating, building trusts and relationships with business partners and suppliers.
The issue of QA deserves special attention in this part of the world. Asia is by now an integral part of just about any global supply chain, and is likely to continue being so. It is therefore in the interest of the players in this region to constantly improve their QA standards.
We believe companies can guarantee quality if they:
- Invest in technology such as computer networks and handheld devices to help disseminate alerts quickly and help in problem solving.
- Transparently indicate the consequences of errors
- Share lessons learnt within a collaborative working culture among QA teams and suppliers
- Work with local governments to incorporate QA courses in the school curriculum
- Invest in vendor development – help correct mistakes of existing vendors rather than ditching them right away for new suppliers
- Invest in the training of new hires and middle management
- Be open to cross-pollination of QA talent by importing QA talent from unrelated sectors
- Fly in mentors. Be open to bringing in QA professionals from headquarters or the more developed markets to mentor local teams for periods of three to six months.
Such measures might appear to be tedious and onerous. But, payback, in the form of significant business opportunities, is what lies behind the successful implementation of such measures.