By Margie Bross | 29 April 2019

In last month’s extract of When Things Go Wrong by Margie Bross, we focused on the fundamentals of managing communication around common problems in apparel sourcing and specifically practical advice on how to 'fix problems'.

Now we focus on how to learn from apparel sourcing experiences.

A post-mortem in business terms is a surgical dissection of a problem to address the cause, the contributory factors, and the time it took to develop.

Although a useful way to grieve the outcome of a situation, what follows the post-mortem comes acceptance, prevention, and finally accountability - a somewhat difficult pill to swallow.

The good news for you is, something good can always come of a workplace post-mortem - unlike a real one! The bad news (for some) is, change will almost always follow as a result.

Keep reading for more information regarding how to learn from a bad experience in apparel sourcing.

1. Evaluate the impact

2. Deliver the bad news

3. Fix the problem

4. Learn from the experience


You’ve weathered the crisis, the “shock and dismay” have dissipated and the sky is blue again. In this time of calm, take time to conduct a post-mortem examination to determine what you can learn from the experience – the weak links, the future risks and the change needed to prevent a recurrence.

Identify Weak Links: What Went Wrong?

Repeatedly we’ve counselled putting blame aside and concentrating on solutions. Well, now that the solutions are implemented, it’s time for a cold, hard look at accountability, time to evaluate the effectiveness of your people, your suppliers and your systems. The most helpful question that you can ask yourself and your team is “What would we do differently next time?”

In order to assess the risk of a repeat performance, you need to understand the probable causes of the crisis you’ve just survived. Causes are as variable as the problems themselves. Natural disasters and civil unrest have abstract and complex origins. They are often unpredictable and always beyond the brand’s control. In a strategic sourcing plan, the risk of natural disasters and civil unrest can be balanced against the reward of low-cost production; however, brands that operate in geographic hotspots must accept greater exposure to risk.

Quality, delivery and compliance problems are easier to anticipate. Probable causes are human error, negligence and dysfunction. Human error includes bad decisions, honest mistakes and everyday slip-ups. Negligence and dysfunction are more nefarious, both careless inattention and deliberate dishonesty fuelled by greed or corruption. Systems and procedures may be so cumbersome or impractical that they obfuscate instead of elucidate.

Weak management may be the prime mover and enabler, so start your search for probable causes at the top, even if it entails an uncomfortable look in the mirror.

Make Changes: People, Production, Procedures

It’s important not to rush to judgement where your people are concerned. Good people make bad mistakes. If members of your team demonstrate a willingness to learn from the experience, give them the benefit of the doubt. Responsible employees who have made errors of judgement will be sufficiently hard on themselves. Beating them up over an honest mistake will serve no purpose except to ensure that they will bury the next problem that comes along, but deeper. Most importantly, encourage your team to share incipient problems before they metastasise into big crises. Demonstrate that your team’s problems are your problems, and that you will be there with them until the problem is solved.

If, on the other hand, you detect a pattern of repeated carelessness (or stubborn cluelessness), or if you find evidence of dishonesty, then be prepared to make a change. How your team responded after the problem emerged is another indicator. Who stonewalled and avoided responsibility? Who deserves commendation for facing the issue head-on and helping to come up with creative solutions?

The same applies to suppliers. Every long-time buyer/seller relationship will eventually hit a rough patch. There are simply too many opportunities in the supply chain for things to go wrong. If you can determine that the lapse was due to human error and that the supplier reacted in good faith to reveal and rectify the situation, then go forward, albeit cautiously.

If, on the other hand, you detect a pattern of dishonesty or failure to accept responsibility, it’s time to sever ties.

Systems and procedures can be dysfunctional because they are not adequate to do the job or because people choose not to use them as they were designed. Before you pile on additional procedural layers, analyse why the systems already in place were ineffective.

Time and action calendars, follow-up reports and checklists should be simple and easy to use, and it’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure they are actually used. 

Detailed monitoring reports can’t replace regular face-to-face sit-downs, in person or on Skype, to review the status of production. An experienced sourcing manager’s intuition is a powerful tool in anticipating and heading off potential production problems before they become full-blown disasters. Insist on frequent factory walk-throughs so that you or your representatives can see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears what’s really going on. There is no substitute for being there.

Catch-up with us next month when we explore the first chapter of ‘When things go wrong’; Part Two: Common Problems, and discuss how to resolve quality claims.

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Tel Intl
+44 1527 573 618

+44 (0)1527 577423

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Contact us

Tel Intl
+44 1527 573 618

+44 (0)1527 577423


Aroq House,

17A Harris Business Park,



B60 4DJ, UK

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