The Translation Company
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Project Managment - Translation Company

By Andrey Vasyankin,
Language Interface, Inc.
(A provider of translation and data processing solutions
in the English-Russian linguistic environment)
alpha@langint.com
www.langint.com

 Any translation company, whether it consists of a single person or has a large translators' staff on the payroll, needs a strict and clear project management procedure to determine the exact work flow for all stages of a job, from the moment the source document is received to the moment the translated file is sent back to the client. The larger a company is, the greater detail is required for each phase description in order to make certain that all team members have a complete and similar understanding of the work scope and purposes.

Unlike a freelancer, a translation company acts bidirectionally: it receives documents from clients and distributes them between freelance subcontractors with the project management and quality control tasks performed in-house. A freelancer, even if he or she is very successful and has an immense number of clients, does not normally receive more work than he or she can handle and therefore does not need to subcontract regularly.

The fluctuations in the translation market make it unreasonable for a company to staff translators on a full-time basis, since no company will have a constant amount of translation work to keep the personnel, which was hired when the company was at its busiest, occupied. Low-workload periods may corrupt personnel who become accustomed to getting paid for just being in the office. Subcontracting freelancers adds flexibility to a translation company, allowing it to survive during slack periods and increase its capacity tremendously to deal with a large translation project. Moreover, having few or no staff translators allows the company to cut down on office expenses (no additional office room, work stations, etc.) and, eventually, reduce the cost of translation.

A translation company needs a strict project management procedure to track jobs received from the clients and performed in-house or subcontracted, control storage of source documents, translated files, and company's data bases, eliminate technical mistakes, support translation work, and educate translators. All these issues solved and managed properly will promote translation quality and reduce the cost of translation.

Tracking jobs

Job tracking is very important both for a freelancer and a translation company when they receive work from more than one client, especially if they need to subcontract. When a company translates, say, 300 pages a week, which were received from 5 clients and subcontracted to 15 translators, job tracking becomes vital. Each job should be registered in the project management spreadsheet. If you fail to do it regularly, you'll face severe problems at the end of the month when you need to invoice your clients and pay your translators. Use your project management spreadsheet as a basis for invoicing the clients, tracking job status and paying your translators.

When a job is received, the following information should be normally entered in the spreadsheet: project or client's name, file name, date received, number of words or pages (whichever is applicable), estimated translator/editor man-hours, and deadline. This data put down in an orderly manner will facilitate future invoicing and help to plan the workflow.

At a later stage, when the job has been analyzed and distributed between translators, the spreadsheet should be supplemented with the following: translator names, number of words or pages sent to each translator, estimated man-hours for each translator, and date and time when the translated material should be submitted to the company.

When the company receives translated material, the actual work performed by the translator should be recorded in the spreadsheet for future payments.

Document storage

Document storage is a critical issue for a translation company. Document storage should be safe to protect documents from being inadvertently erased or damaged, while still be accessible to all in-house personnel. Document storage should also be structurized and logical so that anyone can easily find any document at any moment regardless of who translated it and when.

This kind of storage may be provided on one of the company's workstations or on a separate file server. A workstation used as the company's file depository is the cheapest but least efficient option. A workstation may sometimes be turned off for restart purposes, may be busy or crash due to software problems. This impedes file storage access for those in-house personnel whose computers still work when the file depository workstation crashes. Also, a virus caught in e-mail may destroy the work station operation system together with the file depository.

Having a file server for file storage purposes is a more expensive but safer and far more reliable solution. A file server is a normal desk-top computer with very simple software used specifically for file storage purposes. It is less prone to software mistakes or crashes than a workstation, almost never turned off and provides continuous access to the file system for all in-house personnel.

Database storage

A translation company database includes accounting documents, project management files, translator data, the company in-house vocabulary, translation memory files and clients' glossaries. All these are stored in special folders in the file depository.

The company's in-house dictionary is the most variable part of the stored database. It is used, changed and updated continuously. To provide continuous access and allow new entries to be seen by all users, my company uploaded its vocabulary to a web site. This way all in-house personnel and freelance translators hired by the company can use the most recent version of the dictionary. Only authorized in-house employees can add new entries or correct existing ones. Moreover, my company has made its online dictionary available to the public recently, so that any person, regardless of whether he or she is employed by us, can have free access to the term database created by our in-house personnel in the course of the company's 10 year history. Clients' glossaries are also added to this online dictionary, however they are kept private for copyright considerations.

Technical mistakes

Without a well-developed project management procedure, a translation company is prone to technical mistakes. Some of these might have no serious consequences, while others may cost you a client. Possible technical mistakes include sending the same job to different translators and sending the client the wrong file version or the wrong document.

Apart from the project manager's attentive and accurate approach, orderly job distribution and document naming and storage procedures will help to eliminate such mistakes.

It is a good idea to create root folders pertaining to each client/client's project in the file depository. Then each time you receive a new job from your client, you may create a job sub-folder to save the files in. The files received from the client and saved in this sub-folder (source files) should never be changed. Making files 'read-only' is a way to protect them from unauthorized changes. Then replica files, or target files will be created by adding something to their names to show that these are working files and are being modified by a translator or an editor.

Another good idea is to elaborate a file marking system to show the translation status so that file name or properties show whether the document is just translated, translated and edited or is proofread and ready to be sent to the client.

Translation support and translator education

Free-lance translators should be strongly encouraged to work in close communication with the editors and other in-house personnel. Though term search is normally the translator's task, in-house personnel can facilitate this task by using additional information obtained from other documents associated with the same project. Moreover, some teamwork techniques unavailable to individual free-lancers can be effectively used in house (brainstorm, for example).

However, translator-to-editor communication and use of teamwork problem solving techniques in-house should be regulated to eliminate time wasted through excessive and fruitless discussions and correspondence.

At later job stages, when the editor checks and edits the translations, he should make notes and comments to be fed back to the translators. The company's translation project management procedure should stipulate that editor's feedback is always sent to translators whenever applicable.

Continuous translator-editor communication and feedbacks are important because if this is done regularly, a good translator will eventually start to provide work quality that will satisfy the editor. In the long run, this reduces time spent for editing and increases the editor and company's capacity. If editor's translation support and translator education are not stipulated by the company's procedures, the quality of translation submitted to the company will never grow or might even decrease.

Summary

As has been discussed, thorough job tracking facilitates invoicing, accounting and job status control. Well organized storage of documents and data makes them easily accessible, while keeping them safe. Good project controls will eliminate technical mistakes. Proper translation support and translator education provide better results and productivity. All this united in a well developed translation project management procedure improves the translation company's mobility, cost efficiency, quality, capacity and, eventually, survivability.