Lean, Six Sigma and Translations

How language and translation affect streamlining processes

In manufacturing, streamlining, lean management, and Six Sigma are common buzz words. Since the phenomenal successes by Motorola in the early 80s, it has been common practice for managers at all levels to assess their processes to see where they can be streamlined, waste can be trimmed, and profitability increased.

Language, culture and understanding play a large part in how successful your implementation of Six Sigma and similar models can be. For any companies operating in more than one country, language and the availability of translations should certainly be included in the analysis and methodology stages.

Global companies need multilingual solutions

Manufacturing companies are increasingly global; not just in terms of customer base, or where their hubs are located, but in the range of nationalities of their employees and languages being used across their offices and shop floors.

To take the example of one of the world’s top 10 firms according to the Fortune Global 500 (by revenue), the German company Volkswagen Group, has operations across approximately 150 countries and operates 100 production facilities across 27 countries. Before the product even leaves the premises, (when it will need multilingual advertising, sales staff and customer interaction) for its internal business and manufacturing processes to run smoothly over those 150 countries, they need to take into account many different languages and cultural expectations.

How much is language-knowledge affecting your processes?

It sounds so simple, but the root cause of many issues of waste and profitability may be lack of language-knowledge and therefore understanding. The solution then, relies on providing professional translations and creating understanding.

Companies’ lack of cultural awareness and language gaffes in adverts have long been the source of jokes and internet memes. When it comes to production processes, training manuals or supply chains, the effects are more likely to be loss of staff motivation, leading to low productivity, accidents or errors due to misunderstandings, and poor quality output due to all of the above, ultimately leading to loss in brand status and profits.

Translations to reduce waste

If your staff are not native speakers of your company’s main language, how much of their time is wasted trying to understand their instructions? Do they need other staff to re-explain what to do after you’ve already done it? Perhaps it’s time to provide their training sessions or manuals in their language.

Once you’ve done this once, you can often use the documents multiple times, thereby speeding up future training processes.

An extra benefit is that your staff will feel valued and their motivation and productivity is bound to increase. They are much more likely to recommend you as a good employer, thereby improving your brand reputation and staff retention levels.

Translations to reduce re-runs and defects

How many of your re-runs are due to employee error? Perhaps the sales staff didn’t fully understand the customer brief? Perhaps your shop floor staff made a mistake with the parameters on the machine, or used the wrong tooling?

Something as seemingly simple as a decimal point or thousands separator can cause misunderstandings. In this graphic, we can see how the same number is written in varying ways depending on the country.

If you are expecting employees to understand complex technical data in their second or third language, perhaps it is time to provide them with professional translations of the relevant data sheets and machine instructions. You should see a significant improvement in your quality output.

Translations to increase customer satisfaction

One of the main reasons customers and suppliers will keep returning to you is if you are easy to do business with. That means you communicate in their language, your purchase order process is simple, the supply chain runs smoothly, and the product is good quality.

The increase in quality from using translations in the above processes will inevitably lead to increased customer satisfaction and brand status. If your customers also receive their products with correctly-translated data sheets, instructions and after care then of course they will be even more loyal.

Translations to increase profitability

Using professional translations to improve your processes in the above ways ultimately leads to increased profits and market share.

In many cases, you will only need to invest in translations once, and they will be useful for a long time. In others, you may need to make them available as one-offs or for short-term use.

One thing is clear though: if you want to improve your productivity and profitability and you are using Lean or Six Sigma methods to do so, you should factor language and translations into your analyses.

Download our exclusive infographic:

6 ways translations help LEAN Sigma

Improve productivity, slash operating costs, help strategic planning…

Our downloadable infographic looks at 6 ways translations help LEAN manufacturing and Six Sigma processes.

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