Multi-hatted professionals – Translation project managers

In my earlier post on Transcreation, I discussed the fact that as professional translators today we are asked to wear many hats in order to ensure our survival in the field. One day we localise, the day after we proofread, we transcreate, we train others, we handle a wide range of CAT tools, and most importantly, we are often asked to step up and manage translation projects.

And yet, not everyone is cut out to or has had the adequate training to manage a group of clients, translators, tasks, tools, datelines, rates, human errors, technical problems, levels of expertise and jargon, glossaries, style guides, workflows, software, validation tools, quality analysis, and many other common factors in the life of a translator/project manager.

In this article I will try to briefly clarify the duties of the translation project manager and introduce some of the translation management software available out there to facilitate your task. So, if your career path is taking you in this direction, or if you are thinking about giving your translating career a new twist, this could interest you:

1. Initial project planning. Set up a briefing session with your client/department (in person or over the phone/net) to discuss the requirements of the project.

2. Resource mapping.  Your main task is to optimise allocation and implementation of staff resources to make sure the agreed budget and delivery dates are attained in the most cost-effective manner. So, taking scope, time and budget into account, you need to determine what type of human resources the project will need. Consider:

  • the number of team members that are required based on the size and time frame of the project,
  •  the number and type of languages involved -are they minority languages or are they commonly translated language?
  • the type of resources that will be required for the project -linguistic, engineering and/or production (desktop publishing) and the requirements expected from each of these type of resources: expertise in a specific field, industry, level of translation skill, specific knowledge.  Are the resources easily available or do they need to be contracted from outside the company/country?

All of these will need to be factored into the project schedule.

3. Task sequencing. Decide priorities; what needs to be done and in what order. A simple mistake here          can cost you, the company or the client quite a lot of money.

4.  Project proposal development.At this point, most project managers will make use of their project management software in order to track the project budget according to calculated requirements and resources. They will also need to set up a project schedule and define the client’s expectations within the project specifications.

5. Set-up a project management file. You and your team of experts will need to establish how are text and graphics formatted and what type of software and resource will be needed for production and multilingual desktop publishing. For instance, are files formatted in unstructured FrameMaker, or XML? Are there any typographic specifications for different languages, i.e. Japanese, Chinese, Arabic (or other languages which are not scripted in a Latin-based alphabet).

6. Create a set of project instructions for the resources involved and instruct your team. Your plan needs to have clear, well-written instructions and milestones for your team to refer to.  Provide examples, glossaries and other useful documentation.  In the briefing, ensure that subject matter experts and specialists on the team may identify and flag technical issues that need to be brought to the client’s attention. Pay particular attention to common and more specific localisation issues and bring up any ideas that the client might have missed and you, as the expert, need to make him/her aware of.

7. Project issue escalation. As translation project manager you are the person responsible for escalating any problems that may hinder the scheduled delivery of the project and propose which resources will be able to achieve the resolution swiftly.

8. Client/team communications. Project managers also need to keep clients/senior management up-to-date on project progress either through automated status updates or personalised project reports, etc and are often expected to interpret and discuss highly technical issues based on feedback from team members and remote linguistic vendors.

9. Project delivery and quality assurance. Project managers will ensure files are ready to be delivered to clients through the initially specified channels.

10. In-country review.  Many translation projects require a client’s internal review or even in-country review (ICR). The client might come back with various edits and it is your job to collate any requested changes and circulate the comments and corrections back to the translators. After revisions have been implemented, you will be tasked with returning the final updated files to the client.

Client feedback, as always,  is essential. If something went wrong along this fairly complex process, you need to ensure that clients’ opinions are appropriately documented and redressed in future projects.

But don’t worry, you are not necessarily alone and at the mercy of the elements in this competitive environment driven by shorter product lifecycles and faster product launches. Technology, as much as it can certainly make our life very complex, and it does, in this case, it comes to the rescue of the translation project manager  and becomes our ally.  So, I have put together a list of translation management software that could be useful in helping achieve the hard metrics you and your team are supposed to deliver.

1. Clockingit ^( simple,  free project management tool, which allows you to set up translation vendors and assign them tasks, track file status, set deadlines, track tasks time, see graphics, etc.

2. Projetex, an efficient low cost solution, best suited for small to middle-size agencies. It presents server-client architecture and  Firebird ^( database.

3. QuaHill: Sold in sets with different modules, this web-based project management solution is best suited for middle-size to large translation agencies.

4. Project Translation: Suitable for all translation agency sizes, this web-based project management system features  free and open-source (PHP ^( system core and a range of extensions such as the Freelance or the Financial Reports extension which have to be purchased separately.

If you are experienced in other Translation PM software and would like to recommend it, please feel free to comment below.

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