Picture a playbook for an NFL team. At its most basic, you’ll have your coaching staff and players (or, who’s leading and conducting the testing process), your schedule (how often you test), and your gameplan (how you’ll conduct tests). Instead of using Xs and Os and other visual aids to run your plays, however, you’ll use pictures that help you tell which products will pass a quality check, which will fail, and why. The playbook will also outline the sample sizes you’ll test and define what percentage of defective products will signal the need to reject a whole batch.
Use your written explanation of ideal form, fit, and function to identify what imperfections to test for. These will fall into 1 of 3 categories: minor defect, major defect, or critical defect. For example, a scratch on a cocktail shaker might be considered a minor defect, while a warped shaker that doesn’t fit inside the other shaker could be deemed a critical defect. The amount of defects you find in your sample size will give you an idea about whether you can ship your products, need to do additional testing, or have to – sigh – reject the batch outright.
You can then come up with your own sample sizes and rejection thresholds, but the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also has a standardized acceptance quality limit (AQL) sampling system for inspection by attributes. The AQL chart can be used to provide information and guidance on inspection levels, rejection thresholds, and sample sizes for individual shipments.
Step 3: Circle up with your supplier
If this seems like a lot, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t want to go it alone when creating a quality acceptance document. Incorporate your supplier into the process.
“It only makes sense that your supplier agrees to everything in the document so that both parties are on the same page in terms of what is and is not acceptable,” Gonzalez says.
By having quality standards clearly laid out and agreed upon ahead of time, you reduce the risk of having a drawn-out dispute with your supplier over an unsatisfactory batch of product.
Striking the right balance on quality assurance can also be tricky. You have to take a bit of a Goldilocks approach with it. Too strict and you run the risk of rejecting too much product, which can lead to delays and stockouts. Too lax and defective products can end up making their way to customers, paving the way for negative reviews. Knowing early on what is realistic for your supplier to achieve from a quality standpoint can save you a lot of time and money down the road.
Oh … and if you’ve never built a quality acceptance document before, no problem.
Templates to help structure your document are available online.
Step 4: Find a first-class inspection company to work with
Gonzalez strongly advises against relying on your manufacturer to carry out product inspections on your behalf. “You want an impartial inspector,” he says. “You need to insist on it. Otherwise, you can be left with a supplier who cuts corners when it comes to quality assurance in the hopes of avoiding rejects.” But, Gonzalez adds, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a solid third-party inspection company to partner with.
Third-party inspection companies need to be available on short notice. Our partner promises to have an agent on site and ready to conduct an inspection, anywhere in continental Asia, within 24 hours. This kind of flexibility is invaluable, as it minimizes delays across our vast network of suppliers. But even if you only have a few suppliers, if the past 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that unexpected delays and last-minute changes are a fact of life. Knowing that your third-party inspection company has the flexibility to swiftly react to these changes is a huge value-add.
Find an inspection company with top-notch technology platforms that allow you to quickly and easily access all of your inspection reports across your suppliers in real time. That’s especially helpful if you’ve got a lot of suppliers (and thus a lot of inspection reports).
Your third-party inspection company should be aligned with the material in your quality acceptance document. After all, they’ll be the ones carrying out the inspections. In their reports, data should be presented clearly and succinctly, allowing you to make quick, informed decisions on which products are ready to ship. A good inspection report will begin with a summary of the main findings, followed by detailed information to support those assessments. When vetting third-party inspection companies, it’s not a bad idea to ask them for sample reports to get a feel for how they present data.
Step 5: Don’t rest until you schedule tests
Schedule inspections as soon as your products come off the line – the sooner the better. Why? That gives you time to course correct if there’s a problem. You don’t want to be caught with insufficient inventory because of extended retesting time frames or full-batch rejections.