Now living in Australia, China Checkup founder Matt Slater previously spent many years working as a China Quality Auditor.
In this article he shares some of his experience from 8 years of auditing in China and outlines a typical day in the life of a China quality auditor, from making sure you go to the right factory to handing out nonconformities in a constructive manner!
China Quality Auditor – Matt Slater
As a qualified ISO-9001 and ISO-14001 lead auditor with over 8 years of working in China, I was fortunate to travel throughout the country witnessing firsthand the development of China’s manufacturing industry.
I had the privilege of representing leading certification bodies BSI and SAI Global as a product certification auditor, as well as conducting quality audits on behalf of a range of clients for my own business.
Although there is no such thing as a “normal” days work for a China quality auditor, this piece details some typical activities which occur whilst carrying out an audit in China.
A Day in the Life of a China Quality Auditor
7 a.m. Wake up
Wake up early with a slightly stiff back – like most hotels in China, my bed for the night came with a very firm mattress.
8 a.m. Breakfast
Although there have been improvements in recent years, I often find breakfasts in Chinese hotels rather underwhelming. Typical experiences include:
- “Orange juice” is in fact cordial
- The bread is too sweet
- Usually there will be a chef frying eggs – this is your best choice
- Coffee can be dreadful – in the old days it was advisable to bring your own instant coffee
8.30 a.m. Waiting in the Lobby
Waiting in a hotel lobby to be picked up is a ritual every China quality auditor will be familiar with. Often the driver is either very shy or too absorbed in his mobile phone to notice you, so it pays to take the initiative and ask around.
Pro tip: make double sure you have found the right driver – I have heard a few stories of people arriving at the wrong factory!
At the Factory
9.30 a.m. (or Later) Arrival
When planning your trip you were told that the factory is very close to the hotel. One hour later (sometimes longer) you finally arrive.
You’re ready to start your audit but the factory manager has other ideas – it’s time to drink some tea!
10 a.m. Opening Meeting
They can seem a little contrived, but I always make sure I hold an opening meeting. Even if it is only very brief, it is important to establish why you are there and what you want to achieve.
I use an opening meeting not only to help “break the ice”, but also to make my role clear and establish that I am setting the agenda.
Depending on the culture of the company, the giving and receiving of business cards can be quite important, so always make sure you bring yours. The opening meeting is a good chance to facilitate this exchange.
10.30 a.m. Factory Tour
Especially if it is my first visit to a company, as a China quality auditor I like to take a tour of the factory as early as possible. This helps me to get a much clearer understanding of the scale of the company, their operations, factory conditions and how effectively they have implemented their quality management system.
Some factories may want to whisk you though certain sections or even avoid whole departments, but remember that you are conducting the audit, so make sure you work to your own schedule.
Key sections not to miss include raw materials inspection and warehouse, in-process QC, final QC and the test laboratory.
Also pay attention to how WIP (work-in-progress) and materials are stored and to the general tidiness and cleanliness of the facility.
If you need to audit many factories it can be very easy to forget or get confused about what you saw, so try to take some photos – but remember to always ask first.
12 p.m. Lunch
Provisions for lunch can be highly dependent on how the factory perceive the audit to be going.
If everything seems to be going smoothly you might be taken to a local restaurant or even eat in the staff canteen. If they sense problems however, you may find yourself enjoying a more extravagant meal at a nicer restaurant some distance away.
The mindset is that the longer they keep you at lunch, the less time you have to find problems. Also the nicer the food you are given, the more generous you may be with your findings.
Usually you will be offered beer or baijiu with your lunch. Think twice about the former. Avoid the latter at all costs.
Sometimes the factory will take great pleasure in treating you to their local specialty – quite often this will be seafood, but I have also been to places where this happens to be donkey meat!
2 p.m. Back to the Audit
Two hours may seem like a long time for lunch, but in reality it is quite normal, especially if the factory drove you to and from a restaurant. Besides, the audit attendees are usually very keen to check their emails before recommencing the audit so it can drag on.
It wasn’t the case when I started out as a China quality auditor, but now after 8 years living in China I have a good grasp of the Chinese language.
Although I often don’t know many technical terms in Chinese specific to a product, it is interesting that the factory’s technical staff will usually be familiar with the English terms, despite not being able to converse in English at all.
By combining Chinese conversation with the occasional English technical terms, communication during the audit is rarely a problem.
3 p.m. In the Meeting Room
How much time you allocate to checking documentation is heavily dependent on two simple factors:
- Is the factory’s documentation in Chinese?
- Can you read Chinese?
As a product auditor I always like to spend some time reviewing samples. It is interesting to get a closer look at the product they are producing and check that necessary markings are all in place.
The key to making the most of your time is to focus on the purpose of your audit.
Pro tip: there can be many distractions during an audit, so always remember why you are at the factory and what you are trying to achieve
4.30 p.m. Closing Meeting
The factory has been kind enough to allocate resources for your audit, pick you up from the hotel and feed you, so at the start of the closing meeting I always make sure I thank them for this.
After that I always like to clearly state the outcome of the audit (pass/fail and number of nonconformities), because this is what they are waiting to hear from you. There is no reason to prolong their agony!
Then, I go through each of my audit findings trying to clearly explain not only what is wrong, but which of our requirements it fails to meet. If you have many findings allow plenty of time for discussions.
Pro tip: As a China quality auditor, avoid giving vague findings wherever possible – nonconformities are more likely to be addressed when the factory is made aware of a specific issue
Finally, I always try to finish on a positive note, offer some praise and encouragement and thank them once again.
5 p.m. Departure
As a third party auditor I greatly prefer to schedule my travel for the evening so I can move on to the next location and be ready for the next day’s work.
If you are conducting the audit for your own company however, it is essential to leave some spare time for that evening. The Chinese factory will likely take pleasure in taking you to dinner and this is an important opportunity to build relationships and trust.
6.30 p.m. Drop off
Chinese factories are usually very generous with helping to arrange your onward transportation.
If they are dropping you off at the airport or taking you to a new hotel, you may find that they want to “hold your hand” through the check-in process. This can be quite frustrating but try to stay patient as they see it as their responsibility to their guest – i.e. you!
8 p.m. Flight Delayed
If you have visited China before you will likely be familiar with the regular delays experienced at airports.
Often there are only limited dining options for domestic flights. Also, lower your expectations at the vastly overpriced coffee shops where they have an “interesting interpretation” of what constitutes a Cappuccino.
10 p.m. Arrive at Hotel
Arrive at the hotel exhausted and hungry, get a quick bite to eat and try to check emails. Frustrated by internet connection problems.
Give up, take a shower and go to sleep.