The story you are about to read is the 9th chapter in a series based on a composite of real learning leaders in real situations. The company, Delpharma, is not an actual company but, as you will see, it faces a very real challenge: how to deliver learning experiences in a global, multilingual, multicultural environment. Those readers who have faced this challenge will recognize themselves in this story. If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at email@example.com and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Download the Full eBook Today”.
“Our last two sessions focused on translation and localization,” said Lisa as she made an egg white omelet with goat cheese and red peppers. “At the end, you mentioned quality assurance and I wrote down what you said.”
Meera smiled as she watched Lisa flip through her notebook. “Don’t burn the omelet while you are looking through your notes!”
Lisa chuckled. “Don’t worry,” she replied. “The eggs are on low and will be done shortly. You called quality assurance for translation and localization ‘one of the thorniest problems.’ We need to talk about that.”
Lisa and Meera had been close friends since their days in graduate school almost two decades ago. When they completed their degrees in instructional design and technology, they stayed in touch and followed each other’s careers. After graduation, Meera took a job with a small learning company that provided learning design and development for their clients. After a few years, she moved to Ingenuiti, a company with the rare combination of providing custom learning solutions and translation and localization services.
In time, Meera became an expert in developing learning experiences in global, multilingual, multicultural companies, something she called GMMs. In her fifteen years with Ingenuiti, she had the opportunity to work with many Fortune 500 companies and was well-known in the learning space.
Lisa’s path was in learning but her career had been spent working inside the learning team of multiple companies. She began as an instructional designer in a regional grocery store chain where she eventually became their Chief Learning Officer. Her next role was service as CLO in a US-based hospitality group with hotels around the country.
After a few years, she was recruited for a position at an auto parts manufacturing company located near Detroit with eleven thousand employees. She loved this role and her team. Lisa was a process thinker who spent a great deal of time and effort building a learning production system that was scalable and produced excellent results. For the first time, her job required developing learning assets in other languages. Her company had plants in Canada and Mexico so most learning was translated into French and Spanish.
Translation was new to Lisa and, by her own admission, it was not done particularly well. Not much thought was given to localization and she outsourced the translation to a company that did not specialize in learning. As a result, team members in Mexico and Canada felt that their learning was an afterthought. Translations were frequently wrong or inconsistent. English idioms and colloquial language were included and often made little sense to Mexican and French Canadian learners.
For several years, Lisa assumed she might be at the auto parts company until she retired. Her husband and their two teenage children were comfortable living on the east side of Michigan. Their family life was stable and secure.
All that was upended one day when she received a call from a recruiter. He told her that an enterprise level company was looking for a new chief learning officer and that she was being asked to apply. While not given the company’s name in the first call, she knew the headquarters was in Manhattan and would require a move. After talking with her family and her friend Meera, she decided to proceed with the interview which resulted in a job offer a few months later. She accepted immediately.
The new position was with a pharmaceutical company called Delpharma, one of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies in the world with more than $100 billion in revenue and over 50,000 employees. The company had manufacturing plants in twenty-seven different countries with fifteen global distribution centers. It supplied one hundred and fifty countries with needed pharma products.
Lisa was temporarily staying in a beautiful Manhattan condominium provided by Delpharma. Her husband and daughters remained in Michigan so the girls could finish their school year while Lisa looked for a more permanent residence.
During the interview process with Delpharma, Lisa, and Meera spoke often, sometimes multiple times a day. Meera promised that if Lisa was offered a position and accepted it, she would spend several days with Lisa in New York helping her think through the new role. Lisa was grateful for Meera’s offer.
Over the last two days, Meera led Lisa through a series of conversations about learning development, translation, and localization. The last two items were most concerning to Lisa. She knew, from her experience at the auto parts manufacturer, that translation and localization were not easy. In her new role at Delpharma, she would be overseeing the production of learning experiences that would often be translated into fifty-five languages. It was daunting.
“Let’s talk about quality assurance,” said Meera as Lisa served her an omelet. “I meant what I said. Ensuring quality translation and localization in fifty-five languages will be one of your greatest challenges.”
“I think I have the answer,” said Lisa as she served herself her half of the omelet. “I took German in college. That was twenty-five years ago and I haven’t used it since, but maybe we only have to worry about fifty-four languages.”
Meera laughed. “This is delicious by the way,” she said after a few bites. “You are pointed at the source of the problem though. How can you assure quality in languages you cannot read? But there is more to it than that. How can you ensure that you are properly localizing learning when you are not from and do not live in the cultures in which your learning is distributed?”
“It occurred to me last night that this is really about end-user experience,” said Lisa. “I had not thought about that before. We want to give learners the very best learning experience no matter the language or the culture. That should be our objective.”
“I agree,” replied Meera, “but that is not easily done. Some of the biggest brands in the world have had some very public failures in translation and localization. Some day I am going to collect all the bad examples I’ve seen and put them in a book, but one of my favorites is a well-known failure from Kentucky Fried Chicken. They were trying to translate their slogan, ‘Finger-Lickin Good,’ into Mandarin and it came out ‘Eat your fingers off.’”
“Wow,” said Lisa laughing, “talk about a translation mistake!”
“More than that,” said Meera. “At the end of the day, it was a quality assurance miss. Whoever was supposed to be checking quality had a very bad day on a very big scale. At least no one was injured, just embarrassed.”
“I hear you,” said Lisa. “Delpharma is manufacturing products that people around the world use to maintain or restore their health. Mistakes could really harm someone–or worse. This just got very serious, didn’t it?”
“It did,” said Meera. “The stakes are high for you and your team. Since you and your team can’t assure quality for your projects, you will need a system.”
“You know I love a good system,” said Lisa.
“You do,” said Meera, “and this will be complex. The system begins with the creation of a quality assurance team. These can be experts inside Delpharma or you can use a company like mine, Ingenuiti, that will manage this process for you. But before we talk about who oversees the process, let’s talk about the steps in the process.”
“Step one is creating a quality assurance team,” said Lisa, writing in her notebook. “What makes the people on this team experts?”
“They need to know the language and they need to know the local culture,” said Meera. “We have people around the world who do this for us. You will need to have the same.”
“That’s why you’ve emphasized my connections with local leaders at each plant,” said Lisa.
“I would say that is one more reason,” responded Meera. “They will help you in a lot of ways and it is in their interest to have great training. Quality assurance is at the top of the list.
“What’s next?” asked Lisa.
“I’d suggest you create a set of key performance indicators, or KPIs, that will tell you whether or not you are successful,” said Meera. “How accurate is your translation? Grammar? How well are you doing on cultural issues? You can’t improve what you cannot measure so I strongly recommend you set some targets for your team.”
“Okay. Then we have to gather the data and analyze it,” said Lisa. “In one of my previous roles, we did a great job of naming our KPIs and a terrible job of collecting the data and figuring out what it meant. Actually, most of the time we didn’t even get to the analysis stage because we didn’t take the time to gather the information.”
“I see that a lot,” said Meera. “So now you’ve got a team and some KPIs. Your process should begin with checking translations for accuracy. You will want to make sure that the translation has fidelity. That the translated words and phrases have the same meaning as the original text. You will want to check for consistency. Sometimes different translators will make different choices and learners will be confused by what they are seeing or reading. A translation audit will bring these things to light.”
“Fidelity and consistency,” said Lisa, continuing to take notes.
“Your omelet has to be cold by now,” said Meera. “You finish that and I’ll cover some basics. You will want to ensure that words that have been translated are correctly spelled. A grammar check, looking for punctuation and syntax is also important. One more that often gets overlooked in quality assurance: date and time formats. Forgetting to localize these will be irritating to your learners.”
“Got it,” said Lisa, taking the last bite of her omelet. “All that seems pointed at translation. What about localization?”
“A good localization assessment will make sure you are using culturally appropriate images,” replied Meera. “Colors and graphics really matter. There are a couple of things that need special attention. If you are using humor, it is very likely that it will not make sense to some cultures. The same with cultural references. Think ‘football’ versus ‘soccer.’ Local people will see these a mile, or a kilometer away.”
“In my last job,” said Lisa, “we had problems with layout sometimes. We would create an eLearning module in English and then have it translated into French, which apparently is longer than English. Sometimes, it didn’t fit inside text boxes or on the screen.”
“Not to make it worse,” said Meera, “but I’m sure that several languages in play at Delpharma will read right to left instead of left to right like English.”
Lisa faked a frown. “It seems like you are trying to make this even harder than it is?”
“Not at all,” said Meera laughing. “You brought it up. I’m just confirming that layout matters in your design process and in your quality assurance plan.”
“Seriously,” said Lisa, “this has been incredibly helpful. What else?”
“We already talked about this,” replied Meera, “but it needs to be reinforced. Collect that data that will tell you whether or not what you planned for is actually happening. So that means you will need to follow up and be in conversation with local leaders after the learning has been released. I’d suggest a combination of surveys and interviews. I always recommend surveys to get the big picture and short interviews to confirm what you think you are seeing in the data.”
“And then track that information,” said Lisa.
“Yeah, you will probably want an actual quality assurance report,” said Meera, “so that you can see where the problems were. The reports will also help you see where you are and are not making progress in the coming months and years.”
Lisa looked through her notes for a few moments. “You are going to help me with this, right?”
“If you mean you want to hire Ingenuiti to help you, that is a different conversation,” replied Meera. “I’m here as a friend right now. We can talk about other options in the coming weeks as you get further into your job. One more thing I need to mention.”
“What’s that?” asked Lisa.
“Adding the quality assurance process is going to be time-consuming,” said Meera, “and more expensive than just creating a module in English and loading it into your learning management system.”
“More time and more budget,” said Lisa.
“True,” said Meera. “It is not easy operating a company in more than two dozen countries for a lot of reasons. Good translation and localization are simply a cost of doing business if its leaders really want everyone to be on the same page and follow the prescribed work.”
“From my interviews,” said Lisa, “I believe they are serious about learning excellence for every person at Delpharma, no matter their language or culture. That commitment was a big part of why I accepted the role. I just need to make sure I know everything I need to know to make that happen.”
“You will, in time,” said Meera. “And I’m here to help you whenever you need it.”
“I know you are,” said Lisa. “It is time for a break.”
“Agreed,” said Meera. “Since you made breakfast, I’ll clean up the dishes. We can start again in about 20 minutes. Next on our agenda is launching.”
Lisa cocked her head for a moment. “Launching? Like rockets?”
“You’ll see. That’s for our next session,” said Meera as she gathered the plates and walked toward the sink.
If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Download the Full eBook Today”.