SUPER PMing: THE CONVERGENCE OF LEAN METHODOLOGY AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Lean implementation is a transformational process. Through lean and effective project management services, Welocalize Life Sciences has been able to eliminate waste from our translation and localization processes, thus creating robust and efficient workflows. These improved workflows enable us to provide greater quality across the entire process with faster turnaround times.

In this Q&A with Nandia Savvopoulou, a production director at Welocalize Life Sciences, we discuss how we are continuously improving our processes and creating new efficiencies that are adapted to meet our clients’ needs.

Welocalize Life Sciences: How does lean methodology impact the project management process?

Nandia Savvopoulou: It impacts the way a project manager is thinking. Once the way of thinking changes, so does the acting; the focus switches. People normally tend to use arguments like “human error” instead of thinking that the process in place might leave too much room for human error. When something goes wrong, or results are not the expected outcome, we leave the blame thinking perspective behind and instead focus on the process. Implementing lean in the services industry is challenging, but not impossible.

WLS: How do you define efficiency?

NS: Efficiency is the maximum use of resources while minimizing waste, while being innovative and automating processes. When a client has concerns about quality, a typical reaction might be to provide, as preventive action, a second round of revisions or QA. That is a fitting example of lack of efficiency.

WLS: How do efficiency and project management intersect?

NS: We believe that through a detailed project initiation and a smart linguistic selection we get the highest chances that a project will run smoothly. We spend hours or days, if needed, in preparing instructions, preparing files, creating macros, investigating machine translation best options, and convincing a certain linguist to accept the project. Our objective is to do things right in the first step. Nothing can go terribly wrong in the end if the project was properly started. 

WLS:  Can you give an example of a time consuming and repetitive project where lean methodologies and project management efficiencies helped smooth out the process?

NS: Although there is a continued push in the industry for automatization, there will always be projects that demand manual work. A good example is the translation of case report forms. With hundreds, or even thousands, of scanned pages filled with handwritten text, most of time very little is legible, you cannot automate these projects but you can take steps towards efficiency.

We recently had a tight deadline for the translation of more than 1,000 pages from German to English (DE-EN). We had an estimation of 150k words for translation and five weeks to complete it. In the past, we would send the file for formatting and we would then translate and review. Once ready, we would clean up the files and send them to the translator to fill in the translation of the handwritten text. This is a long and expensive process, and one that obviously involves manual, human translation and work.

WLS: How did WLS team resolve these challenges? Was it a successful project?

NS: First, we did not panic. We had faith that we would get the results we were hoping for and we did!

This time, instead of sending out the package for formatting we studied the files. During this process, we discovered patterns of repeated templates and text. So, we dedicated a week to creating a tracker, a report where the details of source files were registered. Then, we extracted the templates that were appearing only once and this way we spent minimum time formatting. Once we had the formatted files, we “built” the source files based on the info we had gathered. For example: File 1, use template X pages 3 and 4 for sources pages 7 and 8.

Another differentiation from the past was how we dealt with handwritten text. When translating from DE-EN, you have an EN native working on the project. However, natives of the target language do not always have great skills in deciphering handwritten text of the source language. We implemented a new step that involved a German native deciphering and typing all handwritten text.

Out of 170k words, there were only 15k new words. When the translation and review was over, the clean files came out impeccable. The QA took one-third of the time it usually takes, as we had implemented many QA steps and safety nets before starting translation. Costs were kept to the minimum possible. In addition, we had interns helping with the tracking and the QAs.

WLS: What is a typical mistake a project management team makes and how can this be avoided?

NS: One of the greatest—and most typical—mistakes committed is to start translating as soon as the project arrives. For example, rush deadlines “steal” focus and disorient the PM. The sole challenge seems to be the limited time. Even though the clock might be ticking, we need to stop – for a day, a week – and think. Think how we can do things better.

WLS: Any additional input or advice?

NS: I think you add value to a project by getting support groups involved (Vendor Management, Language Engineering, Developers and DTPers/Formatters) in the first steps. Project managers tend to only turn to these people when something goes wrong. Welocalize Life Sciences believes in having these team members add value to the first step, during pre-production, for a more holistic and effective project management roll-out and process. Lean says: Use talent. I believe there is great talent all across our company and the smart thing to do is use it.