BITS and Pieces

Get global. Get ahead.

Julia Fontana, Quality Management and Compliance Specialist

As the language industry grows bigger and more competitive, its stakes continue to rise higher. Prices and deadlines are pushed and there is a constant need for greater efficiency and innovation within the industry. In keeping with the changing nature of the industry, more and more LSPs becoming ISO certified and there is increasing endeavour to reduce costs and turnaround time. This month, we talk to Julia Fontana, Quality Management and Compliance Specialist, who tells us about how Lean Six Sigma could be exactly what LSPs are looking for.

Could you tell us a little about Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma stemmed out of two quality management systems called Lean and Six Sigma practiced and invented by Toyota and Motorola respectively. Lean is much older and focuses on understanding your process and identifying the steps that truly add value. It entails eliminating steps that waste money. Six Sigma, on the other hand, focuses on setting a target for the number of errors you can allow yourself per million deliveries. So we can say that Lean is heavy on process analysis whereas Six Sigma is heavy on statistics.

However, both have common elements so it was almost natural to bring them together to create Lean Six Sigma that uses both statistics and process analysis. Lean Six Sigma has a vast collection of tools that can help any business including businesses in our industry to navigate key business decisions including those relating to process improvement/ process overhaul and the analysis of data including data relating to process performance and most importantly client requirements perhaps.

Why doesn’t anyone use a thing as powerful as Lean Six Sigma in the language industry? Would you attribute it to a lack of awareness or effectiveness?

A lack of general awareness certainly plays a role. Indeed, a company-wide implementation programs within our industry are the exception rather than the rule. There is also a lack in understanding the benefits that the application of the key principles brings to any business. Moreover, it is not a stipulated requirement by our clients yet which lands it at the bottom of any well-meaning executive’s to-do-list. The fact that Lean/ Six Sigma originated from manufacturing industries makes businesses believe that it may not applicable for their company and disregard implementation before having gained an understanding of the potential benefits in the first place.

What would be the key benefits of using Lean Six Sigma in the language industry?

The key benefits would be in line with and not too different from the benefits that companies in various other industries report. When implemented correctly, you’d expect to achieve process efficiencies (which may help you improve on cost and or turnaround time). The language industry has developed to be a very competitive business in the last decade so understanding how you can improve on these two items will be of key importance to any business.

It would also lead to happier people all around! Everyone wants to feel valued and you are expected to have employees that are more involved in how the processes are worked on and shaped – they will feel happier for sure! You’ll also spend more time truly understanding your customer’s needs (as against making assumptions about them); you can for sure expect to see customer satisfaction rates to go up as a result.

Could you share any simple Lean Six Sigma tips and tricks for our readers?

Don’t make assumptions. Sounds simple but we all do it due to lack of time, lack of resources or other reasons but simply put: business decisions based on assumptions are not good business decisions.

Understand your processes. Map them out visually and really understand what happens at each individual step of the process. You can only improve on your processes if you understand how they are carried out at present and even more importantly why of course.

Work together. You are all working towards achieving the same goal and you’ll do best if you understand each-other’s challenges and requirements in relation to the process steps each of you look after. Getting everyone on the same page (and this includes various in-house and outsources specialist engaged in your process) can reveal inefficiencies in current processes quite quickly. By harnessing a larger pool of people to generate new ideas for process improvement, you are much more likely to come up with an outstanding idea that truly improves your processes.

Is it important for people to get Lean Six Sigma certification if they want to implement it in the language industry? What would be the costs involved?

The cost of individual classes vary greatly depending on whether it is accredited or not with accredited classes costing up to $10000 for the more extensive training that a highly experienced Lean Six Sigma professional would be expected to have. However, it is important to remember that it is more than one individual that you need to be trained in a company so costs may be prohibitive for some businesses.

Depending on how many specialist departments you have in your company, you must have at least a medium level training for at least one key person in each department and a basic level training to everyone. This will help in cross-departmental efficiency.

Is it possible for people to take general Lean Six Sigma workshops and then adapt it to translation?

As far as I am concerned, it is not gaining the certification that will help you improve business outcome in your company but understanding the key teachings and applying them in your business on a day-to-day basis so I recommend that you choose a route that best addresses your needs (and budget). If taking more generic workshops seems to be a possibility, businesses do not need to limit themselves to accredited classes.

There is also a wealth of resources on Lean Six Sigma out there such as books and online courses. Some good, some bad but certainly cheaper than the traditional accredited classroom-based courses. Online courses and books are good place to start and even smaller businesses should consider investing some money and time on it.

Back to the Main Page of this month’s issue >>

Sonali Kulkarni Editor in Chief - BITS and Pieces | Professional French-English Translator A novice at adulthood with a persistent travel bug, Sonali is a language professional by day and a pathological bookworm by night. She is an aspiring hyperpolyglot and is conversant in six languages so far. A fresh graduate with a degree in English, she is currently living life one flight ticket at a time. When not translating at her desk, she is normally found immersed in a new language, planning her travel itineraries or already on a faraway exotic land.