Applying Six Sigma to the translation industry

Going global expands market presence and increases revenues; to do so effectively, companies must internationalize their products. To this end, some business theory may be in order. An examination of the translation and localization industry — as well as discussions with translation professionals — reveals a link between Six Sigma quality improvement processes and accurate, reliable and efficient translation that reduces errors and communicates the intent of a service in the target language.

If you adhere to these Six Sigma quality improvement processes, I propose that your company could limit risk and reduce error while facilitating consistency and reliability at each juncture of the translation and localization process. By following these tips, you could initiate fruitful translation and localization projects, or refine internationalization processes already underway.



In the initial define stage, language service providers seek to understand the core challenges and obstacles their client faces when translating and localizing products and services. Via extensive discussions with the organization, the client needs to share all relevant information about its product, as well as its goals for the target market. Moreover, the client should be amicable to accepting changes to this plan as prescribed by the translation and localization firm and its target market experts.



At the control phase, companies seek to limit sources of potential waste and error. Because accurate and effective translations that enhance target market performance by their very definition significantly reduce and preferably eliminate language mistakes. Control is where an organization begins to refine its translation and localization processes, and this stage includes such tools as translation memories (TM), which store previously translated segments in both the original source language and the new target language; whenever previously translated segments reappear in new text, the TM automatically processes the terms and replaces them with their designated match. Over time, the cost savings can be thousands to millions, and industry wide, clients save 25% off the base rate per word for partial matches to the TM, while full TM matches are discounted at 50%.


Measure and analyze

At the measure and analyze stages, translation firms review the project’s control components to determine if these tools are actually working for the client organization in the designated target market and delivering tangible returns on investment for your company. These metrics include the number of words translated, the cost of translation per word and whether or not the translated material has increased sales in the targeting market. Here, translators also 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. Metrics revealed at this juncture inform the articulation of a principled strategy for the improve stage.



In the fifth component of the Six Sigma process as it applies to the translation industry, organizations work to actively implement solutions to lingering concerns identified at the measure and analyze stages. Aimed at creating consistency and replicability in the business model, the improve phase capitalizes upon the client’s key performance indicators, converting the translation process once and for all from a cost center to a strategic profit driver.