Five Habits That Drive Continuous Improvement in Localization

Five Habits That Drive Continuous Improvement in Localization

You’re a localization program manager seeking constant improvement and innovation. You want to improve your program and strive to make changes that create the most impact, but that are also long-lasting. Not sure where to start? Use my framework below to refresh your approach, to rally a team around a cause, or to start your localization journey. It’s really a mindfulness exercise, using open questions to help you rethink your habits.

Habit 1: Create a shared sense of purpose

It’s true both personally and professionally: having a clear direction and purpose helps you live longer, buffer against setbacks, and is linked to well-being. Complex work systems like localization programs involve a lot of people worldwide, intricate workflows, integrated technology, collaboration with outsourcing partners, and intense time and location constraints. As a result, clarity of purpose can be hard to achieve: if you ask different people in different roles what the purpose of your localization program is, you will often get different answers, including silence and blank stares.

ACTION: Formulate or revise the purpose of your localization program with your team. Think of the whole system, outside-in: What are we here to do? Is there a shared understanding of the answer across the different contributors to our workflow, including our partner network? Share and discuss your underlying purpose with all parties involved in delivering and managing your localization.

Next, brainstorm with the team to identify the behaviors that can reinforce continuous improvement and drive purpose. Once you figure it out with stakeholders, print the purpose and behavior principles on a large poster and hang it on a wall in a central location, so you can point to it every time you start drifting or when there is a choice to be made about what to do.

Even if you have your purpose very concretely established, habits are difficult to change. What helps here is to create a one-page habit plan that you can refer to at key times, like before meetings or at the beginning of each day. How do today’s activities specifically contribute to the purpose? Being constantly mindful of the purpose will allow it to frame the tasks you do and the choices you make.

Here is an example of a localization program’s purpose: to deliver multi-channel content and an experience that is fault-free, intuitive, and easy to use, that is on-brand, and that predicts the user’s next action in every locale on every device.

With this, the team created the following behavior rules to nurture improvement and purpose:

  • Instill improvement thinking in all people within the system
  • Understand root causes and identify and eliminate waste
  • Capture and share learnings about the system with the team
  • Foster an environment where team members can challenge each other and themselves
  • Validate contribution and alignment to the purpose every day

Habit 2: Know what matters

Learning to understand what matters is a skill we hone throughout life. The habit of using measurements to tell you if your performance is improving drives better, faster, and cheaper localization processes. Words or dollars earned per period, a target gross margin variance, or user satisfaction surveys help, but they don’t tell you much about where your focus should be if you want to improve performance in the long run.

The questions below can help clarify what you need to be measuring for a clear picture of how your program’s doing and where to take action.

  • What it is that really matters to your customers?
  • What are the types and frequencies of customer demand?
  • How well is each stage of your localization workflow performing?
  • What really causes the delivery results you are currently getting?
  • Is there consistent and true data about the turnaround time that customers and suppliers agree on?
  • How much failure demand is there in the system?
  • What drives upfront translation quality during the translation process so that later corrections are minimal?

ACTION: First, take the time to learn what really matters to your stakeholders. Is it reducing turnaround time? Is it decreasing support calls? Then, validate your existing measures by answering this simple question: Do they help in understanding and improving performance? Arbitrary goals and control schemes will not pass this test. What’s more, they will not encourage people to buy in to improving end-to-end localization.

Habit 3: Choose the best method of improvement

This habit is about not rushing headlong into improving things or solving problems until you have validated the purpose and relevant measures of performance.

We are all surrounded by layers of history: the purpose is just assumed or blurred, because “it’s always been like that.” Or the team has gotten into the habit of just completing tasks and not asking any questions. This happens in many areas of localization, including translation and the use of technology. Time to challenge the assumptions.

Here is another example: in a DTP workflow, the client was asked to verify that delivered files were not corrupted during the localization process. As a result, every localization job was delivered to the client three times in order to flag and fix issues. There were too many communication loops, emails, file handling steps, and rounds of rework: it took weeks to achieve an approved final delivery.

To create a better system, the team did a full redesign. They started with re-establishing the purpose and the measures that mattered to the client. What came as a surprise to everyone was that no one involved in the process really knew why they were doing a threefold handback. The client did not want to be the final proofer of the files. These approval steps delayed the project duration and incurred considerable extra costs, but no one questioned the process because it was just ”the way it's always been.”

So, the team created a new workflow and tested it alongside the existing process using a small amount of real demand. By eliminating the handling that caused file corruption and by using a single internal QA step at the right point in the process, the client was able to accept delivery the first time. As expected, quality remained the same, but deliveries were finalized in much shorter timeframes and teams had more capacity now that multiple rounds of rework were eliminated. Once they had refined the new system, it was officially implemented and greatly improved the client relationship.

ACTION: Just stop for a moment. Do not jump to a solution or band-aid a problem. Pause to think and consider the entire lifecycle. Involve the right people to make decisions about the method of improvement: your vendors, production team, and managers. Remember that fixing what’s broken restores standard performance, but improving a system creates better performance.

Habit 4: Make improvement thinking part of the team DNA

This habit is basically learning by doing. It is about training your team to act on the end-to-end system differently, using measures that matter (habit 2), and learning to actively use and reuse appropriate improvement methods (habit 3).

This is easier said than done. Becoming aware of and actively creating sustainable improvements require having a slightly different perspective to daily problem solving. We often can’t see the forest through the trees. Think about getting initial support from someone experienced in creating long-term improvements and have them help you look at the big picture. Learn and practice some of the appropriate improvement methods, and start collecting data that tells you how well the system is performing and how each improvement impacts it.

ACTION: As a team, have regular sessions to share, discuss, and log what you have learned about the current system’s performance. Or, just make it a 10-minute part of every status meeting. What actions were taken, what went well, and what findings will help you identify the next level of understanding for improvement?

Most importantly, the improvement work must be performed by the people who own the process, not by anyone outside the system. Only then will the improvements continue.

Habit 5: Celebrate success

Finally, use every opportunity to celebrate your progress. Not only does the team deserve recognition, but this habit instills a sense of teamwork, collaboration, ownership, and pride. Plus, these celebrations can help attract volunteers interested in improvement work and build management support for your efforts.

 

You must think about purpose first, measures next, and methods last. Embedding these habits in your localization program will help you drive continuous improvement and uncover what has the biggest impact on performance. After a while, you may notice that leading by your own continuous improvement principles shifts the focus from managing people and individual tasks to teams working with economies of flow and creating long-lasting improvements.

Does this get you thinking about what you’ll do next to evolve your localization program? What constraints have you come across? Let us know!