Heroes without capes – project managers in a translation agency

Last Updated July 27, 2018

We’re not going to lie. While looking for translation services you would go straight to … a translator. You would pay them directly, omitting commission for a translation agency, which in some cases would mean serious savings.  So why choose a translation agency? Because we have a secret weapon that makes your life easier – project managers.

Global business needs global services. Like translation, localization, and interpretation.  A company operating on international markets has very wide linguistic needs — from translation of legal and financial documents and interpretation of business meetings to e-learning or software localization. Even if they hire an in-house team of translators, what they often lack is an experienced project manager to look after translation projects. The bigger or the more complicated such a project is, the more you need a person who would be responsible for the process.

To sum up – when you’re paying a language services provider, you’re not paying for translations only —you’re buying project management.

An insider’s view

From the outside, it may look pretty simple – a project manager receives information about  translation or localization that has to be done. They choose a person fit for the job, send the materials to them, then get the ready materials back, and send them back to the client. Easy peasy!

If any project manager is reading those words now, you can be sure they’re clenching their fists with anger, trying to ignore 413 unread e-mails and the fact that their phone is buzzing like crazy. But they’re probably not reading any of this.

They’re simply too busy, being bombarded with e-mails in the manner of “I need these simple documents translated into French, just a few pages for two days from now, s’il vous plaît”.

But it turns out to be 50 pages of technical jargon-packed manuals.

Or they’re calling a translator back and forth to forward a client’s tenth requirement regarding the translation of a certain term.

Or they’re trying to avoid someone from the finance department and their questions about a missing invoice.

Friday? May be fun for that client who tossed his legal documents around his desk all week and only now decided to have them translated ASAP.

The list is endless, so is a project manager’s job.

Building bridges

In order to understand a project manager’s job you have to know that the translation and localization industry is highly fragmented. Most translators work freelance and even big, international language service providers don’t always have an in-house translation team. Projects are basically outsourced to freelance translators and interpreters. This way, a translation agency can offer more to its clients and be sure there always is someone available to take the job. Project managers build bridges between a translation agency, freelancers, and clients.

What exactly does a PM do?

Contrary to popular belief, a day of a PM’s life does not consist of sending e-mails back and forth. Project managers analyze the source file so they can choose the right person to do the translation. There has to be a perfect match on a few grounds: the language pair obviously, the field of the text for translation (legal, financial etc.) and the translator’s expertise in using the right CAT tools or other software if needed.

But a localization or translation project rarely ends there. A PM needs to assemble a team of DTP and QA specialists, in some cases testers or software developers. After the translation is done, PM often goes through the target files again, just to be sure each of the people working on it before had done everything according to the client’s requirements and needs.

Translation services are a part of the LSPs’ business – but there are also software localization services, multimedia projects including voice-over or subtitling, video games localization or testing. This means that a project manager often juggles numerous people that wouldn’t work together in any other situation.  They create a roadmap for a particular project, keep the deadlines and oversee the work of the whole team. Each project is unique and each stage of a project is a potential source of problems. There is barely any place for “dream scenarios” in a PM’s work.

Basically, they try to satisfy everyone at the same time. They try to satisfy the company’s management by choosing the right translator at the right price, so the profit margin is acceptable. They try to satisfy the client and provide them with quality translation. And they try to satisfy translators by sending them profitable and interesting projects.

Diplomacy is PM’s best friend

Is there “a dream PM”? Well, they have to be stress-resilient. Working under the pressure of time, with so many things that can go wrong and you cannot always control them takes its toll. So a person doing this job needs to learn how to unwind after a whole day of work and not let the stress get the best of them.

PMs also need to have a dynamic learning curve – as we said before, each project is different so project managers need to use their previously obtained skills to create a whole new execution plan.

Soft skills are an absolute must. When there is a crisis — e.g. a translator won’t deliver on time or a client changes his mind at the last minute – PMs need to use their diplomatic skills to put down the fire. They talk to the client and ask for a longer deadline. They call the translator and persuade them to do the express translation at standard rates. If there is anyone that can do that, it’s project manager.

Project managers should be treasured by their colleagues. They are usually people who everyone can count on, they are the best at problem-solving and always have at least ten different solutions to every situation up their sleeve.

If translators are the lifeblood of the industry, project managers are the heart that keeps that blood going.

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