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A Quality Management System (QMS) is a crucial part of the way a company does business and aims to reduce and eventually eliminate non-conformance to specifications, standards, and customer expectations in the most cost effective and efficient manner. Simply put, it is the integrated manner in which a company ensures it delivers on its promises. Setting up a system means setting up a number of elements so that they work together harmoniously and produce a desired result. And the goal of the quality department is to deliver on promises, so that customers are happy and come back. The main elements of a QMS are listed below:

  • Specific objectives, for example, keeping customer complaints below 1%
  • A certain way of doing business and managing employees
  • A certain setup of the processes involved in delivering products or services
  • A set of procedures and training programs (to ensure employees know how they are supposed to do their job)

Quality management systems emphasize documentation and traceability. The systems are formally documented by way of procedures; they are also unofficially defined by the culture and shared values of the organization.

A company that wants to demonstrate its compliance with a QMS standard can apply for third-party certification (also called “registration”) by an authorized body. That body sends auditor(s) on site who evaluate the degree of compliance to the standard. Note that the company applying for certification pays the authorized body, so there is an obvious conflict of interest — the auditors may be given instructions to be more accommodating than they should in order to please their client. This is at work in every country, but is more acute in China.

The concept of modern quality management was not properly promoted. Chinese managers and workers do not have a good understanding of modern quality management principles. There are different versions of quality management concept in different parts of the country. Some managers still cannot distinguish between quality control and quality management.

There are still some cultural characteristics that are favourable for the success of quality management in China. The collective and group oriented aspects in the Chinese culture facilitate the development of quality management in China. Once shared beliefs in value of quality and team participation are developed in the workplace, peer group pressure will ensure that the quality crusade will continue.

Having said that, the question that most entrepreneurs wanting to outsource in China ask: Is certification mandatory, or is it common that Chinese manufacturers implement a Quality Management System without obtaining the paper?

Certification to a QMS is not requested by law. Often, customers request manufacturers to get certified. (By the way, trading companies can get certified too.) Or a company decides to get certified in order to build customer confidence, as a marketing asset. Every company has a quality management system in place.

Successful quality management requires everybody in the organization have a mindset of quality. In addition to the influence of historical, political and ideological background which shape the behaviour of workers in China, the long history of the Chinese culture also plays an important role in the development of quality management in China.