Overprocessing: the #1 waste of professionals

Perfectionist, attentive to detail, or simply professional. Qualities that can become a danger if we are not careful. Overprocessing lurks at every turn. So how not to fall on the wrong side?

What is overprocessing?

It is simply overdoing it. Overdoing it from the customer’s perspective. It’s doing something the customer doesn’t need, want, or use. It’s about placing yourself from the customer’s point of view, and knowing the value he perceives in your service. This value may be different from what you imagine. It is best to take an example.

I use a translation service to translate a document. Once we agreed on the price and the deadline, I send my document by email. I receive the translated copy with the translation certification a few days later. Here are the actions that the translator performs.

Quiz: in your opinion, which steps are overprocessing?


#1. Acknowledge receipt of document

This first step is debatable, but to confirm to the client the delivery time and especially that the document has arrived, that she is starting to work on it, I find that it brings value. I sent it to the right address and it didn’t go into her spam folder. This is even more important if we didn’t communicate by email initially.

#2. Rename files with internal coding

This internal coding is proof of the translator’s organization. She won’t mix my document with others and send it to another client. I pay her to work properly.

#3. Identify the font used in the document to produce a translation that is visually identical to the original

Une police similaire fera l’affaire, pas besoin d’avoir la police exacte. Ce qui compte c’est surtout la forme générale du document.

#4. Translate the document

This is the core value produced by the translator.

#5. Ask the client to clarify a term or concept

To get it right the first time, she asks me for details. This will speed up her work and especially avoid a return and correction after finishing and delivering the document. Neither she nor I want a longer turn around time.

#6. Do additional research on the term or concept on the Internet

This is additional research. If she doesn’t get it, it’s a hassle for her, but I’m not willing to pay for that extra work.

#7. Proofread for translation errors

This is debatable. In order to get it right the first time, there should be no proofreading. But we are human, and therefore fallible. ONE proofreading adds value. Not two, three or more.

#8. Follow up with the client on the progress to confirm the expected delivery date

The delivery time being a few days, the follow-up does not bring anything to the customer. The follow-up would be useful to inform of a delay in the delivery.

#9. Formatting the translation

To simplify the use of the document, it is essential that the translated text resembles the original document. The formatting is part of the value provided by the translator.

#10. Zip the documents with a password and communicate it by phone to the customer

I sent my documents by email, so they are not so confidential. The translator should send me back my documents in the same way. She is probably right. But as a customer I don’t value this step. Worse, she can make me angry because I would have to contact her again if I lost the password.

#11. Send the translation with the invoice

Even if the bill is less pleasant, it is part of the service and brings value to the customer.


Is it clearer now? Do you share my view of what has value or not?

Remember that the value is in the eyes of the client, not in those of the translator providing the service. She may find it super important to look for the right typeface, if the customer does not value it, it is overprocessing. She spends time doing something the customer doesn’t want to pay for. In the same way, I pay for a correct translation. Not for errors that will be corrected…

Why is it a problem?

We all do have quality standards higher than needed in some areas. In general, it is associated with things that we like. As we enjoy doing the task, we do more, it becomes too much and we waste our time.

Please note that I am speaking from a productivity and customer point of view. I care about your well-being at work. I don’t want you to become 100% productive in your 40-hour week. No one can live like this, our brain needs breaks.

From the point of view of the customer, and therefore of the performance of the organization, overprocessing is a waste. It does not generate any value for the customer. It’s wasted time. Your employee could be doing something else more important to the customer, or just working less for the same result.

Examples of overprocessing and associated waste

Collect information that will not be used

It’s tempting to want to measure everything when you’re handed a time tracking tool. How long did I spend on this step, in this process, for this client. But ultimately, how are you going to use the information? What decision are you going to make? If it’s just to know, for fun, then it’s leisure, not work…

Produce a report or document in case

To reassure ourselves, we ask our team to analyze data or carry out research. Worse, we pay consultants to do it. Once the report is submitted, it is read (or not) and it collects dust in a corner. No one takes action after reading the report.

Help others without telling them

Everyone wants to do well, and we have our little quirks. In an effort to help, we sometimes do things that others have to take over. The lack of communication is the cause of this over-quality. There are many examples: the receptionist attaches the receipt to the invoice, while the accountant immediately detaches the two. The clerk renames the scanned documents and the analyst renames them differently. The buyer is negotiating prices with suppliers, while the engineer is negotiating with other suppliers.

Remedy for errors or lack of training

Although it happens every day, it’s hard to detect. People work and are busy.

Take the example of a communications specialist. He took two days to create an email list. Very good communicator, the advanced functions of Excel were unknown to him. The next time, he simply told a data analyst what he wanted, and she pulled out the list in less than an hour.

Spelling review is another example. You can use an auto-corrector or have someone else proofread. But re-reading 10 times your own text does not improve the quality, especially in a short period of time. Our brain is unable to see our mistakes. I am aware of it, I am shocked at my spelling miistakes when I read an article a few years after having published it.

How to produce the right level of quality?

To avoid overprocessing, it must first be identified. Unfortunately, it’s easier to see the splinter in your neighbor’s eye than the log in your own. You can use the comments of your colleagues or relatives. “You’re not overdoing it a bit” should turn on the overprocessing light in your brain. When you spend time on a task, you may wonder if your customer would be willing to pay for it.

What to remember

In any case, to judge well, knowing the value delivered to the customer and the vision of the organization are essential. It all starts with the customer, and they are the only judges in the end.

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