Case Study – Training (Supply Chain)

The importance of training in your supply chain, this goes beyond the surface of the discussion to actually being there and making it happen for the image and integrity of your brand.  For the sake of this article I will focus on the supply chain and operations, the back end of the business.

Without the backend of the business you will not have the frontend (Retail).  

Team Inspection

For the above inspection, I am checking the work of one of our stationed full time inspection staff at one of the factories.  I want to see how he is taken the measurements, accuracy, and efficiency with integrity.  It goes beyond the measurements to the walls within the factory to understand what is really going on.

For starters, a full time stationed inspection staff is always great to have as they are there everyday to look after your production, but if only life was that simple.  The fulltime inspectors get comfortable with their surroundings (management, staff, and workplace).  A hands on Owner (CEO), SVP, VP, Director, or Manager should continually review full time inspectors work.   Its everybody’s job to check everyone else’s work.

Having full time stationed staff is a challenging situation that I have discussed with the factory and management in regards to a possible solution, by rotating staff at each factory, which becomes more costly and cumbersome.    Always good to hear other’s success stories and challenges.

Does everyone understand the “sharing is caring”, being accountable and responsible for all your actions, workflow, and products by providing in depth “Training” to those (your trusted staff on the ground, your suppliers, and the actual makers) who compliment you, your department, and corporation everyday.

Training and development

When I am stationed in the field, I did not prepare for the writing of this article, so I did not document all the critical areas, but will touch on a few areas below.

How do you manage your workforce?  Is training a part of the everyday curriculum?  Do you strive for constant improvement with Kaizen initiatives?    

Operation Inspection

Where to start the inspection, well it depends on where you are, but I usually like to walk myself through the process and understand the infrastructure, policies, procedures, systems or lack thereof.   To better understand this supplier’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).

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The support offices, who is really following your order and looking after your production? Is the right person, the best person in this room following your order?  How involved are they at each step of the way.  What is their workload?  Their balance of work/family life?  When you are not there how involved are they really?  Is someone else doing the work?

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Always good to see how your supplier, makes their patterns, what is the system and software they are using and is it compatible with yours.  Who is the staff, and how much experience do they have working on Western styles and specifications.

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Once we determine who is making the pattern, it is good to check on who is making the marker, look at the efficiency and optimization of the fabric.

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Are you curious why this girl above is only using less than 30% of her screen to do her work?  Possibly thats a good question to ask.

Do you start to notice a pattern in the above photos, cleanliness is godliness, a good monitor is key, and everyone has a calculator nearby (directly in front of them).  So if you visit one supplier and it doesn’t look like this then you have a problem.

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When your pattern department comes for a visit, introduction, and training it is always good to have everyone involved (merchandisers, pattern, maker staff, factory manager, and owner) .   Make sure you have an agenda and someone who is effectively recording minutes, because after the boardroom meeting we will be heading to the operations and factory floor.

Management

This is one of the most important and overlooked areas to look at when visiting your suppliers and factories.  As most buyers focus on the Quality Control, missing the Quality Assurance and Management.

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As your time is limited at this supplier/factory, it is a good idea to sit beside the factory owner/manager at lunch to discuss their operations and production planning for this order.

How you provide them training and support is critical to your success.  You need to look at:

  • The facility or facilities that is/are actually making your production
  • The planning of this supplier/factory for this production
  • The size of the production
  • The type of machines (brands/age/maintenance) that are being used
  • The number of machines being used
  • The experience of the staff, operator efficiency
  • The projected schedule for this production (All stages from sourcing to shipping)
  • What is the sewing process?  (Flexibility, Materials, Production, Queuing, Finishing)
  • What is the cut to ship ratio?
  • The projected workflow, performance, the “Hawthorne Effect”
  • Cycle time projection/management for each critical stage
  • What is your standard SAM (Standard Allowed Minute) for that process?
  • Balancing, the sewing line and organization which is critical for success
  • Line planning/productivity, the output number of units being produced to the number of units scheduled, the AOT (Average Observed Time) then the SMV (Standard Minute Value)
  • The rework ratio, tracking internal failure costs or operational wastages, this is critical in Kaizen Initiatives
  • The next items to produce and why will they follow
  • Production batch/line efficiency that will help determine the actual schedule, which will be your delivery
  • Productivity, as this is a new style on the production line(s), it may take a few weeks of line worker training to get productivity up to the desired result.
  • You should also take into consideration “The Perfect Order Fulfillment” and the “Repeat Order” effects
  • Bottlenecks, how to solve them quickly/efficiently will be critical to your delivery
  • The amount of dead stock (materials, trims, products) after the production.
  • Lastly but most important is customer satisfaction, “What is the return of defective product”.  According to industry measures, customers only return 10% of faulty products, even though it is documented that over 20% are dissatisfied.

Not all suppliers/factories will have the above facts documented, so you need to be prepared to create it on a last moment’s notice and provide an action plan with the desired result and benchmarks so you can track the product from start to finish.

A fact, if you are able to do the above effectively and efficiently, you should improve productivity by 10 – 30% depending on the organization.   Which will help reduce your item costs and improve your ROI by delivering a better product with brand image and integrity first and foremost for the satisfaction of your customer that they expect and deserve.

The inline inspection (QA/Quality Assurance)

Its important to recognize the value of having trained and experienced staff on the factory floor during production.

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This means you need to have someone who is able to stand up to those with a higher stature, status, or wealth.  Going to the actual sewing line and adding to the value of the products.

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Being present with the merchandiser responsible for that production, the factory manager, and the sewing line manager to review techniques, processes, issues and/or problems.

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Where needed bringing in other sewing line managers and possibly even the sewers to discuss issues and solutions to problems on the factory floor.  This is called “Proactive over Reactive” management.

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As needed it is good to get everyone involved, even the factory owner, above we are looking at the hip measurement at early stages before the waistband is attached, to ensure it is within tolerance.  Since the factory manager is involved, this usually means there is a problem with the hip, crotch, or thigh measurement.   Once you discover the discrepancy you need to determine where is it coming from?  Is it the cutting, seam allowance, fabric, sewing, or other unforeseen issues. Then it’s all about the quick resolution to fix the problem to ensure you can get your products back to the desired standard.

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How to measure the hip line according to this clients measurements.  You need the product, some stickers, a tape measure, two pens (in case one doesn’t work), a product specification, a phone (for taking pictures), and a computer, with a few humans.

Ironing/Pressing of your garments

Most of the garments being made in factories, usually involve some degree of ironing/pressing of the fusing and/or products.  Its always good to inspect this area, look at the ventilation, equipment, workers, and the process from start to finish in that area, as well look at areas that may not be viewable to the human eye.

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Not all garments are the same, the fabric, the texture, the shrinkage, the style, the seams, and there are more challenges, so how is the garment ironed is always a good place for training.  Good to have everyone involved, so they understand the right objectives and processes for this one unique style.

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One conclusion that everyone agrees on is that you can change the measurement (shrink/grow) the garment (depending on fabric), to ensure the measurement of the garment meets the specification.  But what happens when the customer in the store washes that garment?  It becomes a whole other integrity issue of the brand and corporation.

Shipping list verification, box inspection selection

Its always good to have experienced hands on staff, who actually go to the factory floor, shipping department, to count, verify the pallet, box count, and number of units as according to packing list, to determine the actually quantity ready at time of inspection.

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This inspection is always good to do with the merchandiser responsible for the program at the factory, the shipping manager, and factory manager to immediately deal with any discrepancies or organizational issues.

Finished Garment Inspection (QA/QC)

If you have had the proper inline inspections, the final garment inspection should not be a problem, but sometimes there are curve balls that need immediate solutions.

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For the above inspection, I am with the merchandiser, two revolving factory inspection staff, and the permanent inspection staff.  I am there to provide training and oversee their work.

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The above inspection is with the merchandiser and the factory QA/QC, I will review everything they approve to ensure they have not overlooked any issues.  Once complete we will review the different piles at the front of the table for an action plan for the issues we discovered to ensure a timely and quality delivery.

Measuring the finished garment (QA)

Who does the measuring of your garments and why?  What do they know, how will you trust what they write?  For starters I like to have a minimum of two people involved for the measurement process, one takes the measurement, the other acts as a manager records verifies the measurement and records the findings, circles (highlights), and reports differences.  If needed we will measure more garments in various colours and sizes to see if it is a consistent or one of problem.

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Both sign and date the document so you know later down the line if their are quality issues who was involved.  In order for this to be effective, you need to repeat the pattern everyday and ensure that policies and integrity are upheld.

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Keep checking every supplier and factory, to ensure they are following the procedures.

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Everybody should be doing the same way with only room for slight variables.

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When training someone knew at how to measure, it is good to have three people involved. One person to act as the teacher to ensure the person measuring is doing it right, the other to record and report the findings

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In measurements it’s about constant training and reminders, of how to do it properly, not using your body parts (fingers) to stretch to meet the measurement.

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If you push/pull harder it will meet the specification.   Training juniors to know what to look for and know when measuring your products.

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Sometimes, but very rarely do let one person measure a garment, but as this production was hundred’s of thousands of units.  There was allot of measuring, and once the people qualified their abilities to properly measure the garment, I let them measure garments themselves with independent audits of their work.

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When to know you have a problem.  For starters why are there four people involved in a single measurement?  What’s the real issue?   If you were paying attention, you would discovered, the person on your left is your agent and represents you, the two ladies to the right are the secondary agent for that region (not authorized to represent you), as they speak the local language, understand the culture, and have all the contacts.  But the issue is they don’t care about the product, procedures, policies, or understand the western views and the person in the background is the factory owner wondering why is this happening to ME!!!  Thankfully there are two security guards in the background wearing Black and Pink, so everything will be in control.

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At another factory, the secondary agent, looking for reasons to justify the measurement, instead of taking responsibility, she is curious why am I taking a picture.  I am curious about the what, where, why, how of this measurement, and wondering where is the security at this factory?

Product review at Production

One in awhile you will encounter problems on the production floor that will require a management review, where everyone and anyone who is involved in management at the factory level will attend.

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The objective of this meeting is to conclude on the issues of the products on the table and make an educated and accurate decisions to resolve the important and pressing issues that will delay the production and save the company millions of dollars.

I believe you should be hands on with expertise and experience, that can see beyond the surface of whats presented to you on the table.   As most of the times it is fluff and filler just there to make you feel good.  A nice “pat on your back, for a job well done”!!!   For flying thousands of miles around the world for one of your monthly, quarterly or bi-yearly visits.

But what is going on is a completely different story if you sink your insights (intelligence), expertise, and experience into the everyday of where you product is created and made.

Everyday, you need to lead the front lines, being present, accountable to show your vision, values, social compliance, and integrity.  Educating, teaching, coaching, sharing, and caring for the policies, processes, procedures, systems, and manuals or lack thereof.

agile coaching

Over the years I have meet many who manage from a distance, travel by plane 4, 8, 12 times a year to qualify their suppliers and supply chain.  Hire locals to manage their product or production only, this is delusion and about perception and deception.

What I see they do not see, as they are not trained to look into the crevices to find issues, problems, and solutions.  

There job can be owner, vice director, director, factory manager, QA, QC, Cutting room manager, Sewing line manager, Bundling Manager, Decorative Manager, and/or sewing line worker.  They all play apart in ensuring your product is made to your workbook (technical specification, style manual, and approved production sample).

Everyday it does not show up and do it’s job, in a 3rd world country they have different living standards, values, culture, and community which are much different than your western world and eyes.  It pays to have a local (from the buyer’s region or understands Western standards, and mentality) with expertise and experience from your country on the ground who understands what needs to be done with integrity.

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The one thing in life you learn is to appreciate, recognize, and reward your team (internal/external) with your loyalty, friendship, and honor. As a trusted companion they are a part of your team, to look after your backside when you are not there.  The best you can do is share your passion and devotion with integrity and respect to ensure at the end of the day you get the product that makes your ultimate customer happy to provide longevity for your brand(s) or corporation.

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