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Achieving Six Sigma Quality in Translations is Possible

Since its creation almost 40 years ago, Six Sigma has been used to improve quality and streamline processes in manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. Could Six Sigma’s quality improvement processes also help language service providers offer more accurate, reliable, and efficient translation and localization services?

Let’s begin with a bit of background. Created by Motorola engineer Bill Smith in 1986, Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. A six sigma process is one where 99.99966% of all opportunities to produce some feature of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects. Six Sigma strategies aim to improve quality by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in processes. This is accomplished by using statistical quality management methods and by hiring Six Sigma experts. Each Six Sigma project follows a defined methodology and has specific goals.

Six Sigma projects follow two project methodologies of five phases:

  • DMAIC is aimed at improving existing business processes
  • DMADV is aimed at creating new product or process designs

DMAIC is the methodology that has the most relevance to the translation and localization industry, so we’ll focus on it. Let’s take a brief look at each phase of the DMAIC process and see how a language service provider (LSP) can use it to improve quality:

  • Define the system, the voice and requirements of the customer, and the project goals. In this initial stage, an LSP should aim to understand the core challenges and obstacles that their clients face when translating and localizing their products and services. Clients will need to provide almost unlimited access, sharing all relevant information about their products as well as their goals for each target market. Clients should also be willing to accept any changes requested by the LSP.
  • Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data. At this stage, the LSP reviews the project’s control components to determine whether they are actually working for the client and delivering tangible returns on investment. The metrics involved may include the number of words translated, the cost of translation per word, and whether or not the translated material has increased sales in the target market.
  • Analyze the data to investigate and verify cause and effect. Determine what the relationships are, and attempt to make sure that all factors have been considered. Seek out the root cause of the defect under investigation. Here, translators might seek to determine whether or not the communication strategy of choice for the translated and localized product or service has contributed to improved sales and revenues. The metrics revealed can inform what changes need to be made in the strategy for the next stage.
  • Improve the current process based upon data analysis. Here, an LSP should work to actively implement solutions that address lingering concerns identified in previous stages. Aimed at creating consistency and replicability in the business model, the improve phase capitalizes on the client’s key performance indicators, converting the translation process into a strategic profit driver.
  • Control how deviations will be handled in the future and corrected before they result in defects.

While Six Sigma was originally created for manufacturing, service industries have adopted it to transform their business as well. Addressing issues at process level should help to resolve some translation issues in the long run, and incorporating lessons learned into following waves of an implementation plan creates a closed feedback loop and real dramatic bottom-line benefits – provided the LSP invests the time and executive energy necessary to implement Six Sigma as a business strategy.

It’s important to keep in mind that Six Sigma is not a tool to find scapegoats for translation quality issues. It serves as a way of identifying bottlenecks or processes that simply aren’t functioning as well as they might. Anyone who has spent time in the language services industry knows that poor quality work is not always the result of a linguist’s incapability. Inefficient processes or subpar source content that doesn’t meet the standards set in style guides are often just as much to blame. Six Sigma aims to correct this by utilizing lessons learned and incorporating them into an implementation plan.

At Argos Multilingual, we believe that quality is central to the purpose of our company and that achieving it demands a total commitment from all our employees. That’s why we incorporate Six Sigma and Lean principles into our ‘Quality at Source’ (QaS) methodology, which creates long-term value through a metrics-driven quality approach that minimizes costly rework at later stages. To find out more, get in touch with us.

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