A Short Annecdote on Attention to Detail in China

Friday, March 14, 2008 10:05
Posted in category From the Factory Floor

While having lunch with a friend recently, we got into a conversation that is pretty frequent in China. Attention to detail, or the lack there of.

It is something that for many westerners, we value highly. It could be as simple as a 5 year old coloring within the lines, to an analyst who is known for amazing Excel skills, to a technician making sure a measurement is exact.

With respect to this conversation though, we were discussing the recent fitout of her apartment and the fact that her husband was miffed at the poor attention to detail that the workers had. That he was constantly having to tell them how something should look, or the “feel” he wanted… and that they still could not get it right.

Where the discussion took a “deep” turn was when she (Chinese) was recalling how she needed to explain to her husband (foreigner) that there was no possible way that they would get this right because they had no context from which to understand what he wanted.

After all, many of the workers were from poorer areas of China, and this had an impact. Their houses may have been poorly built, with the main focus being function… not form… At the same time, instead of using drywall, paint and caulk, their materials may have historically been brick and mortar.

and if those weren’t good enough reasons, she suggested that he remember that they had been sleeping in that apartment for 3 months and she could not remember if they had ever changed their outfit. Point being, that perhaps they were just trying to finish the job so they could (1) get to the next one or (2) get home.

Now, I am not sure that this example can/ should have a larger application (like in the pharmaceutical lab), but in my mind this represents an interesting anecdote/ story that should be shared.

More often than not, sweeping statements about quality are made with little basis of understanding why the quality gap persists, and I would like to think that stories like this offer an opportunity for me/ we/ us to take a step back and break down a situation into its parts and learn.

Anyone else have an interesting annecdote that went a few steps beyond the normal rant?

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One Response to “A Short Annecdote on Attention to Detail in China”

  1. Dries van de Wal says:

    March 16th, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Funny to ready this story as it is so recognizable for me. I work in a Real Estate Company in Chengdu and we find accommodations for expats over here and I have seen MANY apartments and houses in my time over here and completely agree that there is a lack of attention to details. From Chinese developers I am used to it already but what surprised me is the fact that some compounds, who are build by a Singaporean developer, also have this problem. Especially when it comes down to the finishing touch of the apartments and the painting. The workers just paint over the light switches, over the wooden surfaces that are besides the walls, etc. etc….

    We also have many good places who look amazingly nice and where even the details are finished very well so I know it is possible to reach the quality that we wish for but one thing is sure; You will have to supervise the workers on everything they do and it will cost you a lot of time!