Volume 16, No. 3 
July 2011

Vladimir Pedchenko


Front Page

  Translation Journal
The Profession

Does Translation Management Really Exist?

by Vladimir Pedchenko

t seems that it does. At least you see job ads like Translation Project Manager, Localization Coordinator, Translation Project Coordinator, Translation and Localization Project Manager.

All is clear with word artisan professions. Translators create written representations of reality in other language; interpreters build language bridges in real time. But what do translation project managers do? Are they like any other project managers, just co-ordinate the process of reaching the single goal by multiple people? Or is translation management really different?

Ex contrario

Let us check what regular translation management is really not:

No materials. It is not construction management and it is not dentist practice. While occasionally in the past you could be asked to mail a CD with your translation or translate from a fax, today everything is done through e-mail.

Translation project management is hard work, but it is essential for successfully handling medium-sized or large translation projects.
No fixed work schedules. Companies that enter new markets need the translation or localization 'yesterday.' A lot of translations are done by freelance translators who work for several translation agencies, or have day jobs. Therefore it is funny to see the fixed '5 days a week, 9 hours a day' offered by 'classic' PM tools with respect to translation management. Translators often do overtime; proofreaders even more often work long hours because they are second in the line. Translation project managers are in an even more vulnerable situation because they have the least safety time buffer between them and the client. One of translation project manager I have worked with had a skeleton lying on a keyboard as his avatar in Skype.

No fixed industry standards. While the now defunct LISA attempted to establish at least some standards, establishing standards for multiple languages would be a really huge undertaking. Single-language standards do exist and are supported by governments. Superior Councils of the French Language exist in France, Belgium, and Quebec, with the latest language changes occurring in France on legislative level in 1990. The Russian language is regulated by the Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and by a publication that dates from 1956. Maybe the UN or another body may become interested in standardizing translation some day.

No fixed client standards. It is not a garment factory; rather, it is custom tailor shop. Every large client would like to have its own style and be different. With most projects from Fortune 500 clients you receive a big package of Style Sheet, Language Usage Guidelines, Glossaries, etc.

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

The task of the translation project manager is to move the project forward through stages. The path is often paved but sometimes it should be sought through selection of the right freelancer, checking the quality of the translation memory, etc.. The closer the deadline, the better prepared the project needs to be. Below is the sample translation workflow within our translation research lab, where we test all innovations:

  1. Project manager receives translation project. There is always a backup manager receiving cc.
  2. Project manager sends receipt confirmation almost immediately.
  3. Project manager reviews the files and instructions. Project manager sends additional confirmation. Project manager asks any questions he may have. The questions should be kept at a minimum.
  4. Project manager selects translator and proofreader for a project. If they are from freelance team, he calls them and confirms availability.
  5. Project manager checks progress of translation.
  6. Project manager gets files from translator and sends them to proofreader.
  7. Project manager checks progress of proofreading.
  8. Project manager checks the quality of translation and proofreading.
  9. Project manager sends the file to the client.

This is the working skeleton of the interaction. As you see, one important part of the project manager's function is to enable efficient communication. Another part is problem-solving. The project described is ideal, but there are projects where

Dulce bellum inexpertis

Let us check sample problems that translation project manager encounter along the way.

MLV does it all. Often you get a piece of the pie from the multi-language vendor who assigns a single language to you. It is good, but it decreases the time you have for the project. If the MLV has 60 days to complete the project, you may well be assigned 10 days. Because 15 days are assigned for extra check by another single-language vendor, 15 days for DTP, and 20 days is a safety buffer for MLV's PM to re-assign the job in case something goes wrong. So, what is considered by the end client as a normal project becomes a real challenge for you.

No reality. According to our translation management system we have done 19210 projects to date in our translation labs. Only once have I traveled to the site of a mobile phone maker and had a chance to test the display strings of the phone, double-check what each one of the 500 commands does. I had a chance to correct the strings before the phone went to production and was reality-tested by end users. Other two times we received production samples in our translation labs. For 19207 other projects we had to do what other translators, proofreaders and project managers do—research, research, and even more research.

No clear goal. I have encountered a translation project with real project documentation of purpose only once in my experience. And it was IT-related rather than language-related because it concerned the design and production of a spell-checker and hyphenator. By 'real' I mean documentation that explains the purpose of the project.

Translation management does exist. Besides time and money constrains of classic project management, translation project managers encounter a lot of other constraints and problems. Translation project management is hard work, but it is essential for successfully handling medium-sized or large translation projects.