How to Zoom in on Customer Requirements Using Lean Six Sigma

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If you wanted to drive to Times Square in New York City, but simply typed “Manhattan” in your GPS application or device, you would surely be disappointed. With an indirect route, you would inevitably be faced with a farther distance and lengthier travel time than anticipated, and you could end up in Central Park instead. To direct you to your target destination, your GPS requires a specific address.

Similarly, localization service providers cannot identify the most efficient processes and resources—nor produce the exact deliverables specified by their customer—without an accurate understanding of, and agreement on, their distinct requirements. Understandably however, customers are not always aware of what exact information their localization provider needs, and providers may tend to take some information for granted. This often leads to a frustrating and inefficient trial and error process for both parties.

In order to avoid speed bumps or detours along the road to localization, Lean Six Sigma methods and tools deployed from the outset can be very useful. Lean Six Sigma targets your destination in the localization process.

Here are some examples:

Voice of the Customer Charts help ensure that all stakeholders are identified and their needs considered. The localization team can create a Critical to Quality (CTQ) diagram with the customer to:

  • Refine the general needs initially expressed by the customer into specific, must-have requirements
  • Define the precise goals for each requirement
  • Agree on the metrics to be used to evaluate progress and performance

In the broadly-scoped example used above, in using Lean Six Sigma, the requirement of “getting to Times Square” can be refined with questions such as, “Would you prefer the shortest or the fastest route?”

The Voice of the Customer Tool would ask about unwanted conditions, such as, “Any areas you would like to avoid, e.g., toll roads?” This requirement also illustrates the need to define goals and metrics: “What is the maximum amount acceptable for tolls?” and, “Should the amount be measured as the number of toll booths or the total money spent on tolls?”

Ensuring an on-time delivery

Beyond defining requirements, a common requirement in localization is on-time delivery. With Lean Six Sigma, in order to clarify an on-time delivery, localization providers would ask questions such as:

  • What are the deliverables required to consider the delivery complete?
  • What is the point of actual delivery—is delivery complete upon posting, or is it only upon acknowledgment of receipt?
  • For which time zone is the cutoff time and date measured?
  • Is the success criteria for the delivery simply the ratio of on-time delivery, or does the length of delay play a part?
  • Does early delivery provide a value, and should the value be measured?
  • Does early delivery mitigate other late deliveries?

Without understanding the answers to these questions, evaluating key performance indicators can be confusing.

six sigma chart-final-01

Critical to Quality (CTQ) diagram


Achieving clearly established requirements and performance objectives will help to support risk mitigation and process optimization. This will undoubtedly produce demonstrable results that can be shared and become the basis for further improvement. By using Lean Six Sigma, a localization provider will be in a much better position to satisfy customer requirements and establish continuous service improvement levels.

In a future post, learn how Lean Six Sigma specialists tap the perspectives of both the customer and localization provider to further drive improvement across the entire value chain.

marcio correaAbout the author

Marcio Correa is Manager of Global Quality and Process for Lionbridge Life Sciences. He’s a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, an ISO Lead Auditor, and a participant of RAPS, the ATA, and other professional organizations.

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