I was recently asked about how to run effective customer/supplier quality meetings. I’ve been on both sides of the table representing small and large, simple and complex products and projects.
What is the best way to run them? That depends on what result you want from them. They can be run for a variety of reasons:
- establish a new working relationship
- sort out a problem or address a conflict
- gain an understanding of anticipated situations and risks
- deal with changes in management and technical staff (on both sides)
- deal with changes in development or manufacturing processes, or other interaction points
- establish baseline of performance to (re)negotiate and inform commercial arrangements
It is critical to establish the expectations of both sides up front. If you’ve not clearly defined these expectations and mechanisms, the you’ve got some significant problems and risks – but that’s a whole other post.
Assuming that you have regular customer/supplier meetings (if you don’t have them, start now), what should be covered?
Though the amount of time and detail will differ depending on whether it is
- off the shelf products/services
- new bespoke product
- changes to existing products
- integration/coordination between multiple suppliers
Essentially the same topics need to be covered, but may also differ based on whether:
- it is a project and which phase of delivery
- it’s an ongoing supply
The following can be used for both an agenda as well as a report structure:
- Contractual requirements and any clarifications (managing expectations)
- Variations – either contractual or implied
- Performance – deliver on time (quantities, milestones, etc)
- Quality performance – within established upper and lower quality/defect levels
- Key trends and whether thresholds are being broken (or a headed in that direction)
- Tests, inspections, V&V to date, what went wrong and what is needed to improve
- Changes to critical/strategic subcontractors
- Changes to development, manufacturing and delivery/operational processes
- Results of internal and external audits
- Root cause analyses and actions from these
- Other improvement actions from issues, problems, defect trends
- Customer satisfaction survey results
- Evaluation of quality reporting, communications and engagement – are they sufficient and effective for both customers as well as suppliers?
- Issues identified by the project teams (both customer and supplier sides) that are impacting development, delivery or risks to future activities
Having a brief report which is streamlined around the agenda will enable data to be collected prior to the session and for stakeholders to focus on the critical areas.
This may sound daunting and time consuming but it can be streamlined with:
- these topics being articulated in the contract or work statement
- data collected prior to the meeting
- keeping an agenda that only focuses on what is time/phase relevant
In doing this, a customer/supplier quality meeting can be conducted in 30-90 minutes (often tacked on to a project meeting). Any longer than this and you need to break it into multiple sessions around areas/issues.
During or right after you’ve run the meeting simply update/annotate the report with any actions and points covered in the meeting. This keeps paperwork to a minimum (after all who wants to have an agenda + a meeting report + a report, when you have one document do all of it).
Always remember that in a perfect world all customer/supplier meetings should be mutually beneficial. If you have an adversarial customer or supplier across the table, you will need to adjust the topics to suit the type of discussion you are likely to have.
Unless there is a commercially or legally disadvantageous reason, the customer/supplier relationship should be as open and transparent as possible.
Remember it’s an education for both sides.