Monday, December 28, 2009

Vietnam, standards, rules and quality

When I came back form Thailand, I was thinking, what is it that makes Thailand so far ahead of Vietnam? One thing I discovered is a better understanding of standards. Although the majority of Thais are working the asian way, you will see way more standards then in Vietnam.

Why standards are important?
If you have standards and everyone follows them, you make life just easier. You can connect people, services, businesses. But it requires a kind of mutual agreement on the standards. Let's say traffic lights: Stop on a red light is a standard. If everyone follows the standard, you can regulate traffic, avoid traffic jam and make it safe to cross the street (if you have green light). In Vietnam it's different: Still many people just ignore that.
Look at English: It's a standard for international business communication. It's makes business just easier if there is no language barrier. But in Vietnam English skills are still an issue.

What is the relation to rules?
There are two ways to implement standards, and you have to go both ways, not just one. The first way is that people need to understand the meaning of standards, the benefits. Like power plugs: If your electronic device would need 550 Volt, nobody would buy it because you can't really recharge it - the standard is 220 Volt. So everyone works with 200 Volt. Easy to understand and to follow.
The second way are rules: You need to establish the standard by laws, regulations, business practice. And you have to enforce it. So the government just decide to have 220 Volt, and everyone has to follow that. A letter size is a standard (although there are many different one).

So what about standards in Vietnam?
although there are a lot of rules and standards in Vietnam, I see a lack of enforcing them from all sides. Government is struggeling to implement the laws and rules in lower levels, mainly because of a lack of money and staff, and businesses don't really care. Following standards means do the same like your competitor - and this is something some people want to avoid.
Everyones does what he wants do do his way. People decide from traffic light to traffic light if the follow the traffic law. In their job, they even decide of the follow the working flow process or not. That leads us to quality.

Standards are the base for quality
You can only assure quality if you follow standards. Mostly your own standards. Every product you produce has to be the same and the same quality. You don't make good shoes on Monday and bad shoes on Tuesday. And this is exactly the biggest problem in Vietnam: The lack of understanding why quality is so important. Nobody like to pay for surprises, you like to know what you get in advance. A five star hotel is usually a international standard, with certain prices, facilities, service, quality of accommodation. Not so in Vietnam: Prices follow the rule. the rest not (if it's local owned and managed). Even my hairdresser around the corner, who speaks well English, spend a lot of time with foreigners (and was even abroad), don't get it. Sometimes you get a arm massage while having shampoo, sometimes not. The restaurants serve tra da sometimes, but not always. The citimart has muesli sometimes, sometimes not. The mens wear shop has Size 32 sometimes, sometimes not. There are hundreds or more examples.

Conclusion: What to do?
I think it's important to educate about the meaning of rules, standards and quality. And to implement enforcement. (There is a reason why shoemaking companies hire Philippines for the quality control management). If Vietnam doesn't start to work on that now, it will loose money and time. The government is asking for more exports. That will only works if the products are following international standards.


Tim said...

Great posting Thomas. When I first came to Vietnam I was amazed at how seriously many companies took ISO9000/9001, proudly displaying it on their signage & brochures etc, when the rest of the world had already realised it was just a meaningless award designed solely for business consultants to make more money.

But if you delve deeper, it's clear these companies simply use ISO as a marketing tool, rather than a way to standardise quality and business processes. They do the minimum work required to get the award, then go back to their old ways once they've got it, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to actually improve.

Whilst so much corruption exists, and the people at the top (in government and business) can make so much money out of doing things the VNese way, there will be no will to change. Foreigners like us who offer help and advice are at best patronised, at worst laughed at, and ignored in either case. All we can do is do business our way and try to set an example.

William said...

Great post, I was about to say the same thing as Tim :) And you are absolutely right using the example of the traffic lights. I asked my friend why do they run the lights and his answered was because everyone else is doing it. This make me feel ashamed for my VN heritage. Does VN have some sort of standard organization?