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Efficiency doesn’t end with contracts

October 6, 2014

Last week I was running a capability review with an IACCM member company. During a break, one of the attorneys said that he had been struck by the session we had just done on communications and told me a story about his former company.

He explained that this organization was a leader in its field and based its success on engineering excellence. Its technical and production teams were especially proud of the quality of their designs and their associated documentation.

However, like so many manufacturers, they faced market pressure to cut costs and therefore decided that manufacturing must move to low-cost facilities; they opened a plant in Mexico and transferred all their know-how via the manuals and instructions used in the US and Canadian facilities. Unfortunately, quality plummeted. Many were quick to blame Mexican workers – they were accused of being less skilled, having bad attitudes, being incapable of training. But someone in senior management was smart enough to understand that all that state-of-the-art documentation (of which the production engineers were so proud) was actually the problem. It was too difficult to understand – not only because it was in English, but also because it used words and was complex to follow.

Translation was not enough; the documents needed a re-think in both form and structure. They were re-designed to maximize use of graphics and to be visible at understand them. each phase of the production process, to the people who needed to understand them. Quality levels soared, soon surpassing those of the other plants.

The analogy to contracts is obvious. These increasingly complex documents contain a wide array of operational instructions, yet are rarely designed to make things simple or obvious. As a result, there is then either an expensive translation process, or quality of performance suffers.

Those engineers in my story were among the best professionals in the world, but if someone had not intervened to make their work comprehensible they might have destroyed their company. As contract and legal professionals, are we similarly putting our companies at risk?

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