Like a leaky faucet, a process that creates losses here and there can amount to a big bill at the end. Yet, most language service providers pay very little attention to subtle waste, even when they abide by quality management systems such as ISO 9001. To achieve operational excellence, LSPs must systematically identify waste and strive to eliminate or reduce it.
Waste occurs when there is a deviation from the “ideal” process. It is insidious and finds many ways to permeate an operation and cause unexpected results. Yet it may also come in as conscious decisions to manage risks from common actions such as adding a buffer on a project timeline or budget.
Most language service provides immediately think about the rework necessary on bad translations when they analyze where waste happens in their organization. However, there are many more sources of losses. Muda, the word for waste in Japanese, is an important element in the lean philosophy and contains seven categories of waste: defects, inventory, motion, over-processing, over-production, transportation, and waiting.
Because the lean model was designed for the manufacturing sector, it doesn’t apply directly to the translation process. However, CSA Research adapted some of the original concepts to align it to the language services industry. In our research and consulting engagements, we find that waste abounds, often without leadership awareness of it. It can result from simple things like unnecessary mouse clicks, having more people than needed at meetings, or managing a vendor database that holds many more suppliers than you might ever consider using on projects but vet nonetheless. Beyond producing an unpleasant side effect of doing business, waste affects your company’s performance, including:
- Your profitability. Muda is often unplanned, so when it occurs, it goes right to your bottom line because you can’t pass the costs on to customers. Waste reduction techniques often free up internal resources and cut external costs.
- Your competitiveness. When waste makes your offerings more expensive than the competition, it has a direct relation to the client’s willingness to work with you. Many LSPs facing price pressure complain about rivals that slash prices to unreasonable levels. However, the reality is that some of those discounters simply run much leaner operations that enable them to offer better rates.
- Client satisfaction. Reducing waste improves efficiencies, which can lead to faster deliveries, cheaper rates, and better quality, all of which can help increase sales and refine the customer experience (CX). Lean approaches are particularly helpful when adapting to Agile workflows to keep pace with your customer’s approach to content creation.
- Employee job satisfaction. Removing barriers to doing the job and encouraging everyone to get involved in improving the process usually boosts staff engagement.
Savvy LSPs understand the importance of reducing waste in value streams. These organizations embrace the continuous improvement mindset and realize that removing muda is not a one-time exercise but an ongoing effort.