We’re often asked: “How is project management in China different?” In our experience, successful companies are doing three key things: more bite-sized milestones, more frequency of touching base with critical team members in the supply chain, and deeper dives. Let’s dive in.
Imagine when you were writing your first paper in grade school, and the teacher said “the paper will be due in a couple of months, and next week I’d like you to show me your outline.” So instead of just saying at the end of two months “I want to see your finished paper…” the teacher helps guide your process so that the eventual outcome is in line with what is expected of you.
Same applies to managing a supply chain in China. Importantly, milestones must be managed and nurtured as mini-milestones. For example, if you’re going to be building some tooling, ask for mini-milestones to see evidence that the steel has been ordered. Then after the steel arrives, you’ll want to send someone out to the factory to actually see the steel, ready for machining. And then in the machining stage, you’ll want someone to take videos of the in-process machining, pictures of the heat treating, and so on. If a Rockwell hardness test is needed, again – send someone out to the factory to either do it or observe that it got done.
These are simple examples of how to break down a bigger milestone into smaller ones so that during those steps, if there are any problems…you get early warning signs on what’s actually happening. The devil is truly in the details and you’ll want to stay on top of every one of them.
More frequent check-ins
The second key difference for project management in China is how frequently as a leader you’ll need to check in on how the project is going. In the West, we might be used to checking in every month or two. In China, you’ll need to check in every week or two. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust what your supplier is doing. It just means you’ll want to be involved with the process and see what’s happening. It’s about “trust through verification” to borrow a Regan-era phrase. As the details evolve, stay involved in the process, and apply spot horsepower as needed.
On a supplier visit, you’ll want to frequently see what’s coming in from sub-suppliers. Don’t rely on what you hear. You may even want to go deeper than that – and visit sub-suppliers. This is often something we do that even the primary supplier isn’t doing. And it’s not until you demonstrate to them issues happening with sub-suppliers that they realize the importance in the supply chain.
The bottom line
For each of these three, there is a very critical aspect: the human connection of people. It’s not about simply looking at a GANT chart or Microsoft Project file and ticking off accomplishments. Critical to your success will be the quantity of your personal hands-on engagement. You must connect with each person critical to your process, and develop a strong enough relationship so that they feel they can reach out to you when problems come up – and they won’t be reprimanded. Instead, you’ll be a trusted resource for solving problems.