A Weekend in the Life of a Project Manager What LSPs Can Do and What Buyers Should Know

Localization is a 24/7 business. You probably knew this already. Buyers have a budget to burn, stakeholders to please, and end users waiting. Translators must deal with it. Salespeople nervously fidget while waiting for a positive outcome. And project managers (PMs) need to make sure everything is clicking. Sometimes, weekends are a luxury.

It’s Friday already, and you just got tasked with a project that makes you wonder if someone made a mistake in their word count calculations. Is that 100,000 words or characters? Are we supposed to have it done by tomorrow? Do they expect us to translate this whole book in a weekend? (Yes, you are, and yes, they do.) The frustration kicks in. Then you analyze, adapt, and overcome what initially seemed impossible.

When a language service provider (LSP) is facing an unusually difficult and unexpected task, how do they find the right solutions? What can be done to streamline the processes and make the project less complex? And what can buyers do to help make their LSP’s life easier? In this article, we will explore these questions.

Here comes the bomb – a case study

We interviewed David, a project manager working at a mid-sized LSP, who was managing the project with the following specifications:

  • Client: a large Chinese e-commerce platform
  • Type of content: product descriptions
  • Word count: approximately 600,000 words
  • Time allocated for the completion of the project: four business days
David, that looks like a fun little project. Tell us about the main challenges associated with it.

 

Well, it almost felt like a bomb was dropped. The client sent us the job on a Friday evening, close to the end of our working day, without any heads-up. The first batch was due on Monday. By “batch” I mean a portion that was about one-sixth of the total word count. The entire scope needed to be delivered by Thursday end of the day, which left us with six days, the weekend included.

Walk us through the thought process when you receive such a request. How does an LSP go about it?

 

Simple math, to begin with. 600 000 words divided by six days, that’s about 100,000 words a day. Assuming that linguists will increase their output, each of them will still only be able to translate around 3,000 words a day. Therefore, we needed 33 linguists readily available and willing to spend the weekend working on an urgent assignment, starting “five minutes ago.” And that was for translation only.

However, there are a few industry-wide quality assurance (QA) practices that we cannot skip, for instance, bilingual editing, monolingual proofreading, and a QA check. So, we needed 15 more linguists who would be reviewing the translators’ work, plus several proofreaders and QA specialists.

We sent job announcements to practically every freelancer in our database only to receive a handful of positive replies, which comes as no surprise at 8 p.m. on a Friday. The content did not require much specific knowledge from a linguist, but it came with a long and rather complex set of instructions that everyone had to read and stick to diligently.

Can you elaborate on the nature of the content and what made it difficult to process?

 

The content wasn’t a large, cohesive text. Rather, it was a bunch of keywords thrown together in a nonchalant fashion. What’s more, they had been written by a non-native speaker of English, which added a lot of ambiguity. That, of course, made the whole thing even more time-consuming than we had expected.

Naturally, poor source quality didn’t mean we could deliver a translation of the same quality. On the contrary, we were supposed to improve the content and make it human-friendly by translating it based on a set of specific rules provided by the customer.

Did this project have an impact on your general approach to work?

 

We learned some lessons, definitely. It became apparent that we needed more sophisticated technology solutions, which led us to explore the opportunities that exist on the market. Moreover, the project made us re-consider our resourcing policy as well as internal team structure.

As an LSP, do you have much say in discussing project details, such as deadlines or pricing, with your customers?

 

Deadlines are often both non-negotiable and hard-to-meet. It’s the pressure that turns some projects into “extreme” projects. Some clients care more about the quantity and the timeliness of our deliveries than the ways we achieve the expected results. Conditions may be imposed on us, with little regard to a project’s feasibility.

It does cause frustration among our PMs and the project team. For many of them, it’s all or nothing: they accept the project and get a good opportunity to learn and hopefully earn more money for the company and for themselves. The alternative is to stay where they are, professionally speaking. They don’t really get to speak out often, let alone influence our customers’ decision-making.

 

Sounds familiar indeed. Thank you for your time, David.

Automation is key, and so is tooling

You’ve probably experienced a similar situation as the one David describes above. Here is what we believe will help you pull through the weekend:

By 2019 most LSPs have implemented some form of automation in their workflow. If your organization hasn’t yet, you’re setting yourselves up for lots of unnecessary stress. Reaching out to each individual linguist via email to collect files or send instructions is not the most efficient way to organize your workflow, especially as far as “extreme” projects, as the one described above, are concerned.

If your customer doesn’t lock you into using a specific tool, consider yourselves lucky, because you have a lot of flexibility. Try using online tools with built-in QA features, one of the many advantages of a translation management system (TMS) (see Nimdzi’s Translation Management Systems catalog to learn more), or even developing your own tech solutions that will suit your operations perfectly.

Some CAT tools are already integrated with a TMS get the list here.

Both license-based and open source CAT tools offer extensive capabilities that you might want to use to make your PMs’ lives easier:

  • Server-based translation memory: ideal for large-scope projects where the content needs to be split among multiple subcontractors. Such solutions may include OmegaT, memoQ, Memsource, SDL Trados, TWS, or Wordfast among others (also, see here more details about open source tools)
  • Terminology management solutions (like Multiterm and other systems)
  • QA tools – good old xBench can be used as a back-up solution

Such solutions will help you dramatically reduce the time needed for QA. With dozens of translators working on the same project, inconsistencies are unavoidable, and lots of time will have to be spent on final QA checks if you don’t have specialized software.

LSPs, get ready…for the weekend

1. Expand your pool of resources, even if you don’t see anything massive coming (yet)

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s be honest, not all linguists are able to deliver sufficiently high levels of quality, even if we talk about a specific niche they specialize in. Besides, they may have different productivity levels. You should be thinking about investing in vendor management. You might be surprised to find out just how many candidates you’ll need to filter out. In this case, quantity will lead you to more quality.

And then there’s the inherent unpredictability of our business too. If you represent a well-established LSP, no matter its size, you can expect a stable workload with occasional spikes that you have to be prepared for. You need to have enough reserve players on your team at all times. How many is enough? While there is no set answer, the more the better. You don’t want to find yourself frantically searching for suitable linguists on a tight deadline. Don’t let it get that far.

You have to plan for the unpredictable. How about planning for something that can be predicted? As per The Nimdzi 100 report, the localization market is growing on average by 6.8% every year. It is projected to eclipse USD 70 billion by 2023. You are part of a growing market and more work is coming your way.

Want to take a closer look? Grab the table in Google Sheets!

Companies should keep in mind more business will inevitably lead to resourcing questions. Get started now. By the time the bomb drops, it might be already too late.

2. Do not work in isolation

A PM’s role is one with much responsibility. As a PM, you are usually free to make your own managerial decisions in fact, most LSPs highly encourage independence and proactiveness. That said, a “can-do” attitude is all well and good, but you’re only human, after all. You must be able to evaluate the situation and your own abilities adequately in order to request help from your colleagues in a timely manner. Your decisions need to be educated decisions.

Buyers, LSPs need some wiggle room

If at all possible, allow your providers some degree of freedom to use technologies and workarounds they are familiar with. Discuss with them the ways they can leverage their know-how to process your urgent request in a timely and accurate manner. Forcing an LSP to use a less-known approach may ultimately impact the outcome in negative ways. In most (albeit not all) cases, quality is of utmost importance you probably don’t want to sacrifice it.

Discuss calendars with your partner provider and notify LSPs in advance of major assignments that are coming up. It is likely that your provider will use other providers’ services, and in such a case the whole supply chain needs to be aware of what to expect. PMs losing sleep over projects may not ever be your top concern, understandably so. Then again, think of the knock-on effect on quality. Giving a PM the chance to prepare for your challenging task could make a world of difference.

The bottom line? Regardless of the technology used or of quality expectations, it is important to take the human factor into account even if you’re ready to allocate extra budget to compensate for the complexity of your request, which may not make it any easier for your provider’s team. Finding a way to efficiently collaborate and understand your partners’ needs is going to be a win-win for everyone.

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