Built-in Quality: How ISO and Other Certifications Ensure Top-Tier Translation

By Jeremy Coombs

Edwards Deming, respected 20th Century scholar and revered authority on systems thinking, was fond of pointing out that quality cannot be inspected into a product. How then do you ensure quality, if not through inspection? Those familiar with Deming principals know the answer is to build quality into the product from the start.

Many translation providers, and even their customers, still rely on inspection to ensure quality. The reasons are simple enough: Translation companies can easily add more revisions or quality control processes in response to poor quality. Some customers find an approach using inspection to be satisfactory and may even add their own supplementary review. However, if you subscribe to classic systems principals as taught by Deming and others, you know that improvement through inspection is short-lived and often costly.

The only real way to consistently ensure a quality product is to fix the process, not the product. So, if process improvement is the key to producing a quality product in the first place, how do you choose a translation partner that focuses on process and not inspection? What should you look for?

An Indicator of Continuous Improvement
First, search for a translation partner that espouses the ideals of continuous improvement. Such an organization should have a well-defined system in place for analyzing defects, determining root cause, and addressing process issues as far upstream as necessary. Access to this process should be readily available to the customer and, in fact, should include the customer.

One indicator that a company incorporates this process in practice is ISO 9001 certification. As an ISO 9001:2008 certified organization, MultiLing has found the emphasis that certification places on process improvement to be profound: Our quality management system is not only well documented but also rigorously followed. In essence, ISO 9001 certification requires that you say what you do and do what you say. Key among the processes to be documented is a company’s process for identifying flaws in a system and improving them.

ISO 9001 certification does not mean your product is certified, nor does it mean that a product will be error free. However, for a company to achieve and maintain certification, it must demonstrate an active culture of and process for improvement.

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Industry-specific Standards
Next, look for a partner that understands and has implemented translation industry best practices through certification. EN 15038 and ISO 17100 are related, yet distinct to the ISO 9001 standard: Both have an important industry focus.

EN 15038 and ISO 17100 do not attempt to define the quality of translation. Such a definition should be agreed upon between vendor and client and may very well differ from project to project. The standards do, however, highlight the foundational processes within the translation industry—like translator selection and terminology management—that enable consistent quality.

Numerous association and government-sponsored credentials also exist to certify individual translators’ skills specific to certain translation domains. Within the realm of intellectual property, some patent offices require translation certification, depending on jurisdictional filing rules. Although translator certification is not always necessary, make sure your translation partner can communicate when and why certain levels of certification are required.

By combining the process adherence and improvement found in ISO 9001 with the best practice standards of the EN 15038 or ISO 17100 certifications, you can effectively create selection criteria for a translation partner. Such a partner will have the capability and desire to work closely with you to improve not only company processes and product quality but also those shared within a client-vendor context. These certifications are strong indicators of a company’s ability to get it right the first time. Quality, after all, is always better from the start.