How do you bring life to the death march of quality?

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 by mstevensrev

“The race for quality has no finish line- so technically, it’s more like a death march.” -Unknown

There are at least three elements that make localization challenging: Complexity of projects, control of rates and payments globally, and the ever pursuit of the “White Whale” of language quality. To carry the “White Whale” analogy further for Moravia our Captain Ahab is Moravia Language Services (MLS), a group of expert linguists dedicated to making sure that every word Moravia provides to a client is quality. And yes I do think it is fair to say that just like Ahab, MLS has encountered this White Whale and walked away with a limp at times. Every person at Moravia does know that quality is not merely the responsibility of MLS, but rather every member of client delivery must focus on the pursuit of this “White Whale”, so I guess that makes us the crew of the Pequod.

Is there a way to bring life to those pursuing this lofty goal in providing our clients quality in every word? Next I hope to share one perspective of how we hope this leads to life rather then a death march.

To start let’s look at the software development process to find out where we generally fit in. I start with software because most of my clients are in this industry, yet the same view could apply to product development, marketing, or life sciences. While it is helpful if company consider localization requirements early in the software development process, it is usually not the case. Take a fairly traditional image of the software development process:

At best we can hope that companies are taking internationalization into account during the Idea and Definition stage, others would describe this as the Requirements, Design stages. At the best case we find localization being done during the Review and Refinement stage, though often it is very late and on the downward path. Again it is usually at Testing/Verification (and when 90% of the budget is used up) that localization enters into the process.

When localization starts late in the process it creates greater challenges regarding quality. The less time you have before shipment, the great room for error. Some of our clients and many companies have adopted an Agile process to address this and Moravia has many good resources for you to check out on Agile localization here and here and here.

In short Agile is breaking down the long process of the first chart into chunks of development that can be reasonably managed in 2 or 3 week cycles, a sprint. The highlights of this process are the planning that takes place by the team and the daily accountability in stand up meetings. most companies use some form of this process incorporating some of the methods into their development. This is good because localization is planned for before each sprint, this additional time and insight regarding the limit of what could potential come for localization does improve capacity management of translators and ultimately quality on every word.

As I mentioned most companies are using some form of the agile process these days though it has been around for years now and would be consider a ‘mature’ model though not quite ‘vintage’ at this stage. One specific Agile methodology that really took of is known as Lean, with the book release by Erik Ries of The Lean Startup companies such as PayPal looked to drive this methodology into all aspects of their business not just software development.

I’m predicting that with the release in 2014 of Trevor Owens’ The Lean Enterprise, the methodology will be around for longer and will continue to be adopted by leading companies.


You can get an idea from the Lean workflow that sprints may not be as stable or controlled when compared to a strict Agile development. The sprints have the potential to lead to faster iteration, when the process is boiled down to Make > Check > Think, companies are able to move quickly. They Build prototypes or next version right away so results can Measured and Learn from the data before the next cycle. From the outsider prospective the rapid speed involved with Lean development has potential to be chaotic and negatively impact quality. There are controls specific to Lean that make quality greater rather then worse. This is the point I want to get to and we have the Toyota Company to thank for this remarkable quality process that has benefits far beyond manufacturing.

Toyota’s quality process, that has been adopted by Lead Development, has two emphasis PEOPLE and CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT. Both of these are key for Moravia to assure each word delivered is quality, this goes for every member of the team as well not just Language Quality Managers. For instance when a Localization Engineer writes a script that automates a portion of the hand off for the Project Manager and 30 minutes of time is saved. That means for every language thirty minutes can be introduced into the localization work flow that can be dedicated to additional time for the translator to translator, the proofreader to proofread, the editor to edit, or the reviewer to review. This Localization Engineer can have a major impact on language quality though he does not look at a specific word. These incremental improvements by our team members have enormous impacts on the quality of the words Moravia delivers.

Digging one level deeper, this means everyone involved with the localization workflow has the Andon System. Wikipedia describes the Adon System as:

An Andon System is one of the principal elements of the Jidoka quality-control method pioneered by Toyota as part of the Toyota Production System and therefore now part of the Lean approach.[1][2] It gives the worker the ability, and moreover the empowerment, to stop production when a defect is found, and immediately call for assistance. Common reasons for manual activation of the Andon are part shortage, defect created or found, tool malfunction, or the existence of a safety problem. Work is stopped until a solution has been found. The alerts may be logged to a database so that they can be studied as part of a continuous-improvement program.

To me this is one of the most striking ways to bring life to quality improvement. No longer will the person who designed the manufacturing line, or the people manager, or the manager of the plant, or anyone else not involved directly with the production only have the power to stop the line because of poor quality. It is not the CEO, CTO or managing directors at Moravia who can make change. Rather every individual dedicated to that production has the ability and responsibility to own quality. This to me is life-giving! Providing Moravia employees the power to know that they are able to make positive change. This can lead to a healthy pride in your work and confidence that each word delivered is quality.

This is one way that we believe the pursuit of quality can change from a death march to a life giving process. We do this at Moravia because it is the right thing to do for our customers. This addresses one of the three elements I mentioned at the beginning of this article related to the complexity of localization keep an eye out for thoughts on the other two.

Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.” -Herman Melville, Moby Dick


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