World-class manufacturing companies have seen the many benefits of a process-oriented approach to manufacturing. One of the core concepts of lean manufacturing, the elimination of waste (Muda ), is applied to everything, including inventory, transport times, motion, and waiting. When combined with the philosophy of continual improvement the results are a steady increase in quality, a decrease in costs, and an improved manufacturing agility.
Although translation contains an element of art, its production benefits from a process approach no different from any manufacturing operation. By establishing a consistent production process (as opposed to bespoke per customer), we can focus on continual improvement, leading to a streamlined process and uniform training for project managers. Supported by technology to automate repetitive tasks and centralization storage of key information helps remove “tribal knowledge” or reliance on unique individual resources and eliminate information islands that are barriers to consistency and scalability.
The classic book, The Machine That Changed the World, provides a key lesson in the contrast between the old approach of white-coated quality inspectors at the end of the production line and the lean method of incorporating quality directly into the production process. Translation production should be no different. The first principle is to use specialist translators fluent in the subject matter. This is the same as using a wrench specifically sized to a bolt versus using an adjustable wrench that takes time to align and can damage the fastener. Next, an independent editorial review represents a process-approach to maintaining consistency and identifying poorly-performing practitioners at the individual level. The alternative, inspecting quality after completion, typically results in delays from rework and the inability to prevent future recurrence. Finally, a statistically-driven automated QA sampling system provides an independent assessment of individual practitioners to ensure consistency and avoid human recency bias – “trust, but verify.”
Perhaps the largest difference between manufactured goods and translated language is the measurement of conformance to a quality standard. Products have the benefit of dimensions and specifications – these are absolute standards with pass/fail criteria. Language, on the other hand, is highly personal, and one person’s treasure is another’s trash. There are however means to define and measure conformance to objective language quality standards. Establishing standards that include agreement on glossary, style guide, and categories/severity of errors are among the important steps to create organizational trust between translation provider and translation buyer. This requires that the same discipline applied to production management be used by language reviewers – making translation a step in the production process instead of a post-production afterthought.
By treating translation as a process with continual improvement in mind, the practical translation buyer can expect to receive the same benefits of any lean manufacturer: Reduction in Muda, resulting in continual improvements to quality, speed, and cost.