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Why is Translation Project Management Necessary?

To unlock the mysteries of translation project management, this blog will cover typical duties of translation agency project managers and common tasks they must perform in a typical document translation project. The scope of a software translation or website translation project would vary only slightly.

Some clients new to translation assume that there must be some type of software solution that could totally “automate” project management for translation or localization projects. As this blog indicates, software or automation cannot replace human project managers, who are indispensible to the process due to the vast number of project variables, requirements, exceptions to project scope, etc.

What is translation project management?

Project management in translation and localization projects
involves identifying requirements, organizing a project plan, then securing and managing staff resources to successfully complete and deliver the project. The degree of difficulty and associated challenges with these tasks will vary from project to project.

Project management preparation: Project managers begin a translation project by gaining full understanding of the project scope, based on input and requests from the client. They then refine project requirements to ensure that they are accurate. Basically, translation project managers must map out exactly how the work will be executed.

Determining project resources: Project managers must determine what type of human resources (linguists, engineers, etc.) will be used based on the specific skill set required for the project. Factors that must be considered when creating a project plan are: (a) how many team members are required based on the size and timeframe of the project, (b) how many and what types of languages are there and (c) what type of resources will be required: linguistic, engineering and/or production (desktop publishing). Is experience in a specific industry or tool required?

Creating the project blueprint: Project managers will then use their project management software (Global Project Management Software, or GPMS in GPI’s case): this will enable them to enter all of the requirements and resources that will make it possible to track the project budget and the lifecycle of the files as they go through the translation/localization process. They will also set up a project schedule and define the client’s expectations within the project specifications.

Project file management: Project managers must then review and examine the source files to determine a variety of factors. They must determine what formats text and graphics files are in, as this will determine which software and staff may be required for production and multilingual desktop publishing. In document translation, file formatting will greatly influence this. For example, are the files in unstructured FrameMaker, or XML format?

Draft project instructions for the team: Project managers must define and provide a project plan for their internal team, which consists of clear, written project instructions and milestones. These instructions may include a list of precise standards defined by the client. An example of project instructions for a document translation project would be a list of page footer part numbers that correspond to each target language.

Internal team project kick-off meeting: Once project instructions are complete, project managers will schedule an internal team project kick-off meeting. The internal kick-off meeting assures that all team members understand what needs to be done and any specific client requirements that may be out of the ordinary.

Subject matter experts and specialists on the team may identify and flag technical issues that need to be brought to the client’s attention during this meeting. Examples may include identification of graphics with text which are only available in bitmapped format; the source Illustrator or Photoshop file may be required. Project manager then refine project requirements based on internal team feedback and prepare for a client kick-off meeting.

Client project kick-off meeting: In this meeting, project managers discuss how the team will accomplish project objectives and confirm what the final project deliverables will be. They will also bring any production or engineering issues that were uncovered during the internal team kick-off meeting to the client’s attention for clarification and resolution.

Project resource allocation: Once the project manager has determined and verified the project scope, timeline and budget, the next major task is identifying staff resources that are scaled to the size and delivery date of the project. The project manager must look at the project from a monetary perspective in light of scope, time and budget. The project manager’s main goal is to optimize allocation and implementation of staff resources to achieve budget and delivery date goals in the most cost-effective manner. On new projects, the project manager may work with vendor management to find the right resources.

Linguistic resources may be outside a resident translation services team, and will likely be located in country. All of this will be factored into the project schedule. In many cases, competent translation agency project managers will not need to go to vendor management, because their past history with a client and repetitious project needs will allow them to simply “know” with which vendors to work.

Project issue escalation: The translation agency project manager is the primary person in charge of escalating issues for resolution as they occur during the project. Team members will communicate issues or project anomalies to project managers as they occur. An example may be a linguist discovering “truncated” text. The project manager will swiftly identify who can resolve problems or issues, and what the next steps are to accomplish resolution. Project managers must also keep the client informed of any issues that require client input for resolution.

Client communications: Project managers keep the client up-to-date on project progress through automated status updates, project reports, etc. In many cases, the project manager must interpret then explain highly technical issues to the client, based on feedback from team members and remote linguistic vendors.

Communications are tracked and logged by the project manager as they are received, so they are documented for future project updates. Communications that require tracking may be received very early or late in the project manager’s day, depending on the time zone where the team member is located.

Project delivery: As a translation project approaches completion, the project manager has several steps to go through to ensure that deliverables are complete and compliant with original project specifications.

Final file check: If there were 32 source files in a certain format, there must be 32 target language files in that same format during the delivery phase of the project. The project manager must prep files for delivery and set up delivery to the client through the preferred channel, either the translation company’s translation portal or the client’s FTP site.

Client review and final revisions: Many translation projects require a client’s internal review or even in-country review (ICR). In such cases, requested changes, corrections and revisions come back from the client and require final edits to the deliverable files. The project manager collates any requested changes, and then disseminates comments and corrections back to the production team. Final updated files are delivered back to the client by the project manager after revisions are implemented and reviewed.

Translation post-project evaluation: Larger projects require a post-project evaluation (PPE) or “post-mortem” meeting with the client after project completion. Project managers will document and log the following issues:

  • What did the client change and why were changes requested?
  • Ensure that client feedback is documented and preserved as notes in a translation project management system, (GPMS in GPI’s case.)
  • Make sure that files are properly archived for future use.

Why translation project management is essential to project success

Obviously, there are a number of places in this chain of events where communications could potentially break down, or mistakes could occur. Competent translation companies and localization project managers have processes in step to help prevent errors from occurring.

The “human factor” of a competent project manager is absolutely essential to translation project success. In some ways, the project manager acts as a “smoke detector” that senses early warning signs of deviations that can affect project budget or delivery date. In short, project management is a service as valuable to the client as the actual translation services, which are the focus of the project.

When selecting a translation company for your translation or localization project, you should ask to be introduced to your potential lead project manager.  This valuable and essential team member will be your main contact from project beginning to end.