Is process standardization the right strategy for LSP's?
Customers require more and more a level of specialization and customization from their localization vendors. This means that it is often not enough for LSP’s to offer a solid service, they need to be able to adapt that service to fit the specific needs of their customers. Of course, at the lowest possible cost…
This poses a problem for LSP’s. I’ve worked with more buyers than I can count over the course of my career and I cannot think of any two of them that did things the same way. Sure, there are some similarities to be found, but for the most part everybody has their own way of doing things. Even two different teams using the exact same CAT tool may use the available features in ways that would be unrecognizable to each other because they are dealing with different requirements, goals, budgets, stakeholders, and constraints.
If you work for an LSP, I don’t need to tell you. It’s the wild west out there, people!
Vendors adapt to fit the needs of their clients. It’s impossible for an LSP to have a single set process. An LSP project manager working with 10 different clients may have to mange 10 different processes. Maybe even more, if some of those clients have different teams internally that do things differently.
The same old case for standardization
LSP’s spend so much time seeking to improve efficiency through standardization that we have almost forgotten what this means. Indeed, even just typing the words “improve efficiency through standardization”, I think I threw up a little in my mouth. It is a tired concept, a cliché. However, just because it is cliche, doesn’t mean there aren’t some real benefits. There are also some considerable drawbacks, though.
What about customized, “flexible” workflows?
Some LSP’s choose to take an extreme customer-service approach, prioritizing flexibility over efficiency. This will mean very little standardization, because rolling out any standardization will lead to decreased flexibility. However, there are some great benefits to be had, as well. While they won’t be as responsive to new challenges, they will be able to build out a well oiled (and profitable) machine to provide a consistent service at a lower cost to their customers.
Can’t we do both?
Sure, I guess… But I doubt you can do it well. You would better serve your customers by defining your niche and then investing in improving in that area. Are you competing on cost? Then trim the process-fat and lower costs! Are you competing on service? Then hire the best PM’s to hold your customers’ hands.
At the end of the day, each LSP (or maybe even each project manager) needs to define what is right for their business. There are so many different niches in which to compete that there is a time and place for every approach. The key to process standardization is, as with so many things in life, balance. Too far to the extreme either towards customization or standardization will limit the ability to serve clients.
- Define core activities that should not change and roll out standard processes for accomplishing these.
- Build in flexibility at the program or project level to be able to customize each process without straying too far from the core process.
- Design modular workflows that can be plugged together, rather than one overwhelming workflow that cannot be broken into smaller steps. This means that if one component needs to be changed, the whole process does not need to be thrown out.
- No matter how standardized, don’t just hire button pushers for PM’s. PM’s are the face of the company to the client. Hire smart people who can think “outside the process.”
- This is an organizational decision. Make sure that your customers and everyone inside your organization knows where your company’s culture fits on the spectrum of standardization to customization. More importantly, make sur they know why.
- Remember that you can’t be everything to everyone. You can ban be ultra-standardized and compete on cost. You can be highly customized and compete on service. You can be somewhere in between. Pick your niche. Then get really good at competing within it.