Three reasons why true Localization Project Managers are such a rare breed

Three reasons why true Localization Project Managers are such a rare breed

Localization Project Management is brutal. Intense information flow, tight turnarounds, change management all the time and working around the shortcomings of systems, people and processes is what the job is all about.

Let us start by defining what a "true" Project Manager is. A Project Manager is a person in an organization that does everything within their power to secure the desired outcome of a situation. What different people understand their power to be is what separates the people who work as Project Managers versus Project Managers at heart.

Critical Thinking

1) A Project Manager should know their systems and tools but they should not fully trust them. A sent email is not one that left one's outbox but one that was confirmed by a client. A finished file is not one that was concluded, but one whose conclusion was ascertained. Semantics? Hardly. A slight difference in approach makes the same job exponentially more complicated. Now the task at hand is not to explain instructions. The task at hand is to ensure that they were understood and applied. Question and doubt must imbue the Project Manager's thoughts and actions at all moments. However, questioning and doubting are a constant and uncomfortable exercise. With time, people become involuntarily lazy as they begin to trust that what happened yesterday will repeat again today rather than making sure it does. Critical thinking is like any blade that needs to be recurrently sharpened and maintained in order to work properly. When people begin to acquire "mastery" they stop learning, stop questioning and begin to fundamentally fail at the job of being a critical thinker.


2) Project Management is about communication. Communication is about being present, listening and being understood. Most Localization Project Managers I see are more interested in getting the files they have to the right places than listening to what their team truly have to say and working with that information. Not necessarily because they do not want to listen. They just don't have the time to that or we do not prioritize it enough. Listening forces a Project Manager to make tough decisions, negotiate and compromise. Not listening is easy. You can hide behind emails and chats and minimize relevant conversations on projects. Divergences on termbases, penalties applied to Translation Memories, potential problems with other translations, unexpected issues in multimedia files, questions, and queries, are the meat and bones of project management. More often than not I see this issues pushed around laterally rather than with the intent of truly addressing and solving these. Either the issue belongs to engineering, or to vendor management, or is ambiguous, or will require a deadline change which is just not feasible, and brings us to:


3) Owning information is burdensome. To own information means that you evaluate the sources for all your facts and cross check them twice before confirming that something is what people claim it to be. You make sure you get all your information from Primary sources and that you can attest to what is being said. So much of Localization gets technical so quickly, it is difficult to research everything to make sure you understand and agree with what is being said. "It will take 2 hours to fix this." Will it? Have you tried opening the file and playing around with it a bit? Is that even allowed? Are Project Managers allowed to question the time frames and possibilities offered by other areas and departments or are they bureaucrats just piecing everything together?

In my opinion, Localization Project Managers are among the most overworked and underpaid professionals I have come across. They work at the intersection of processes, translation talent and systems and somehow have to make everything gel together. Some are given autonomy to chose absolutely everything in a project, from time frame to people and methodology. Some are only required to check and monitor on automated workflow steps. Regardless of the level of autonomy, Localization Project Management is not about GANTT diagrams and high-level planning. It is about the daily grind, doubting everything without becoming a cynic, dialoguing to the point people are understanding what you would like them to understand without becoming pedantic, and delivering consistently without becoming neurotic. It is about learning every single day from your mistakes and the things that you did right and about refusing to let go control over any given situation no matter how over the top of your head it may be.

Critical thinking, communication, and ownership are basic human behavior and yet in my experience so difficult to find regardless of academic background and credentials.

4 ways in which the Smartphone has sucked the soul out of me - and how to fight back

4 ways in which the Smartphone has sucked the soul out of me - and how to fight back

Deeply latching onto my neural mesh, the smartphone (the physical representation of my digital existence) and I have become one. Very much like a host and parasite, I use it, but most importantly, it uses me. While this symbiosis has many upsides, unchecked, it has the power to suck my humanity right out of me.

1) The smartphone has eliminated time for my mind to be with itself. No more waiting, no more boredom, no more being alone. Anytime anywhere, a movie to watch, a book to read, some gossip to like and pay forward, games to play and pictures to see. Not even the elevator awkwardness is necessary anymore - eradicated by the smartphone. Rather than having entertainment as healthy escape every so often, entertainment has become a need. I have filled out all of the blank spaces in my day with digital activities. Reading an e-book while waiting in line, listening to that e-book while driving, wireless music while running. All the little spaces that my brain had to rest, have been occupied by digital engagement. Any idleness has been consumed by a limitless dimension that wants me and is actually paying for me. That's right. I am not the consumer. I am the one being consumed.

2) The smartphone has eliminated the need to deal with my emotions. Not feeling on top of my game? I may know that something is off, but I can brush that under the table with one more hit series, one more search, one more feed. So comforting and soothing. Why deal with any of my emotions if I can just float past all of them? While soothing, this has blocked my need to actually sort things within myself quickly. Being alone, either while running or meditating doing nothing is a painful process when something needs to be resolved within me. Now no longer. I can take away the pain and replace it by some but of news, a meme, or crucial information on how anybody I know wants me to think they are living their life. No pain, no need to change. All my stimulus towards having to sift through my emotional garbage is gone. Now I can jump from one new thing to another.

3) The smartphone has distanced me from cooking, music, art and everything that I love. Watching something on the smartphone is easier than learning a song, easier than cooking and easier pretty much than anything else I know. Not that I don't do those things anymore, I just do less of them. Rather than just using the iPhone as a portal towards discovering new recipes, songs, and possibilities, my unrestricted tethering to this device has made it difficult for me to have the mental space to engage in more complex activities. Easier to get a bag of something, sit down to watch the next Netflix show and be done with it.

4) The smartphone has changed my sense of time. So much can happen in a digital second. Anything can happen anywhere in the word with anyone and I may miss out on it. No amount of connectivity is enough as each moment has become infinitely packed in terms of information. Every moment I am away from my phone is quietly filling me with anguish. The smartphone own me and has warped my will towards me thinking that I want to use it when actually I just cannot help but using it. Sounds familiar? That's an addict right there.

And what do here?

1) It's not the smartphone's fault. It's mine. I am the one who has allowed this device to occupy such a large part of my time and consequently my existence. My flaw lies in not recognizing the downsides and structuring use around my overall goals and lifestyle.

2) Limiting the amount of time and becoming disciplined helps. However, it is a bandage, not a cure. The true cure lies in addressing the anxiety I cultivate in my existence and embracing the emptiness within my being, for that is the space in which my soul can breathe.

3) Continuously recognizing this helps. People smoked at a consumer level for decades before people realized that a perfectly "natural" habit from a social standpoint could do such harm to our bodies. We are at the age where the digital existence is unchecked and at its full power. We may continue geometrically down this path, but I think we will at some point realize that the very stuff that is empowering us, allowing us to become beyond human, is also destroying what made us human in the very first place.

The death and re-birth of an authoritative translation quality framework

Translation quality is typically evaluated using a Cartesian paradigm with an evaluator on one side and an evaluated party on the other. At first glance, this works beautifully. Translation submitted; translation evaluated; people take action and the wheel keeps on turning. Under closer examination, this divide between the evaluator and the evaluated party brews mistrust has fundamental shortfalls:

  • There is an implicit expectation that the evaluator must catch and point out mistakes made by the evaluated party.
  • They are on opposite sides, adversaries, rather than collaborators.
  • The evaluator does not own the project success. Rather they are focused on error detection and have someone to blame in case of an unexpected outcome.
  • People on opposite sides focus on sharing information on a need to know basis rather than sharing things that may not seem relevant at first glance but that prove invaluable to the project success.
  • Focus on mistakes, produces errors, rather than promoting success. We can categorize and analyze all the errors, but what are we trying to accomplish with this translation? What are we trying to sell, to teach, to assure? An error free translation does not necessarily represent a translation that exceeded what the original asset sought out to accomplish.

Sure there are shortfalls, but is there something better out there? Short answer, yes. Here is a brief run-down:

  • When we jointly establish that the evaluator is happy with the evaluated party, with their credentials, skills, attitude, and abilities, we lay out the groundwork for trust. We create complicity and partnership. If the evaluator takes an active role in deciding whom they are evaluating they are no longer powerless and distant. They own the process just as much as the evaluated party.
  • Because they own the process, they are more inclined towards sharing past experiences that did not work well, best practices and valuable bits of knowledge that can go a long way towards accelerating learning.
  • People on the same side, focus on helping each other, on guiding one and other and on ensuring that milestones are met so that there are no surprises with the project outcome.

In order that this mindset works, the entire context must also be open to it. If the evaluating party embraces a collaborative, trust-based framework but in turn has their boss evaluating them in a traditional way, the format breaks down. The entire team and possibly even the organization need to buy into the model.

And what happens when things break down? That's the beauty of this framework- everyone is accountable and the solution is not as simple as replacing the translator or the provider. We need to examine all of the choices made:

  • the criteria for selecting the talent
  • processes & technology
  • knowledge management
  • timeframe
  • communication

This paradigm takes longer to set-up but once it takes on momentum, it acquires a life of its own and produces in the long run incomparable results. Why do people not use it? There is the matter of habit and most importantly our traditional way of thought is focused on having a clear dichotomy between teacher and student, boss and employee, buyer and vendor.

It gets sticky and complicated quickly once this dichotomy is dissolved. Collaboration is harder to manage, messier, more complicated, but in my opinion more sustainable, pleasurable and prone towards evolving and rethinking its own rules.

4 structural flaws that compromise everything in localization

4 structural flaws that compromise everything in localization

Get a text. Write the same thing in a different language. Done. If only...

Translation is a simple task that evolved into a monstrous process - dozens of roles, hundreds of steps and workflows, thousands and thousands of people. Why does it get so complicated? Simply put - four main structural flaws compromise everything.

1) The fragmentation of knowledge and abilities is a common denominator. While translation is a particular skill, and many people can get around in several languages, few are translators to the fullest extent of the word. Translators know two or more languages but not necessarily how to project manage. Project managers know about timing, risks, resources, and stakeholders, but not necessarily about communicating with clients. Account directors know what clients need, but often little about what it means to translate. Localization engineers know about file types, tags, and workflows but do not necessarily feel the pressure that project managers and account managers are under. While these are gross generalizations, they allude to a scenario in which a disproportionately small number of people have any grasp of the full picture. With so many parties involved seeing all but a slither of the entire pie, it is difficult, if not impossible to agree on anything. The industry needs more generalists who can bring it all together, promoting understanding and a solid common ground on which everyone can work in. Also, this fragmentation of skills contributes to problem-solving through force rather than understanding. Throwing people at a problem can often actually increase the size of the problem rather than contribute to its eradication. Rather than looking to carve out roles that are specific to the industry, we have built the localization industry out of a patchwork of pre-existing positions in IT, Advertising and other more traditional predecessors making it harder to zero in on the exact necessities of its niche.

2) People try to make themselves necessary rather than obliterate their own roles. State of the art level work makes insurmountably complex jobs seem trivial. Illustrating this, a network engineer that truly solves a network's problems is barely needed at all, while a mismanaged network will soon require dozens of technicians to solve to what is fundamentally flawed. As the translation industry in general provides stifled room for growth and does not aggressively reward professionals with a change-minded approach, we find ourselves in an environment where it makes more sense to superficially remedy that which is flawed rather than frontally address its root cause. A large job to translator ratio, for example, will transform a Project Manager status into Company Magician. On a similar note, translations delivered below quality will turn in-house quality assurance staff into fully fledged heroes. Mismanaged processes will make it seem like more and more people are necessary to cover the gaps left by those responsible for the previous link in the translation supply chain. Project Managers that can develop deep relationships with translators will minimize the importance of a Vendor Manager and so on. Not that these roles are not important because they are all crucial and contribute in their way. But they could be far more efficient in a world where people are actively working towards becoming extinct in their companies and truly accountable for a deeper understanding of what how their work fits within the organization. Like in other niche fields, translation and localization specialists revel in the complexity of their domains rather than trying to attack the root of that complexity and focus on transformation.

3) Our relationship with technology is ambivalent at best. Machine Translation, automation, integration are all concepts that are threatening just as much as they are liberating. The advance of machine translation challenges the role and importance of the translator, just as automation does the same with Project Managers and integrations do the same to engineers necessary to manage different systems. I, embrace and drive head into technology and at the same time wonder what kind of landscape our business will look like in 10 years or so. Focus on ROI makes players try to reap the most out of legacy systems rather than dump them and go for more advanced architecture. We use technology on a daily basis, translating using CAT tools, managing projects with industry or custom built TMSs along with countless other tools that hold our business together. However, how many of our users, are adopters of this technology, in the sense of understanding its architecture, implicit reasons for its dos and do not's and know what we want to get out of future technology available? In my opinion, our community as a whole understands itself as a technology user rather than a technology stakeholder, thus reducing the positive tension and dialogue between people able to develop and drive technology and the user community.

4) It does not take much to realize that "Translators" are the most important of the "Translation Industry". However, a disproportionately large amount translators have passively accepted relegation to mere suppliers of labor. Those making decisions and leading the industry seldom come from a translation background and the way we have shaped the industry, borrowing from IT and advertising agencies, Client Account Directors, for instance, are seen as far more important revenue drivers than translators. I do not think a translator or anyone as a matter of fact, is a superstar, but translating is what we do, and awesome translators should be able to reach similar levels of importance as other professionals and executives in the field. Translators have become cogs in wheels, supplying human input where necessary, rather than people participating in the complex decision-making patchwork that this industry has become.

Three main reasons why people mess up the glossary - and how to get it right

Three main reasons why people mess up the glossary - and how to get it right

In my understanding, the glossary is supposed to have a list of KEY terms that are either industry, client or context specific. With a robust glossary, translations are more consistent, respectful of client terminological preferences and ultimately cut down on both research and review time. In the end, if it is just a list of words, how can people mess it up more often than not? Here is why:

  1. The glossary is typically a pre-facto activity when it really should span the entire translation life cycle. I usually see people building terminology as they go through one or more documents the very first time or using statistical terminology extraction. This results in inadequate term selection as statistically irrelevant terms can be of significance during the translation process and as without proper contextualization, it is challenging to know what is important and even what constitutes a term. Some terms may happen only once in the entire text and may seem obvious, but only when I begin researching, will I notice that there are different industry or client standards for that same term. Other terms may sound technical or complicated but in the end, have widely adopted and accepted terminology.
  2. Less is more. Really. When I talk to people about glossary there seems to be an underlying assumption that the more terms in a glossary, the more complete it is. More terms, in my opinion, increase the probability of irrelevant terms in the glossary fogging the importance of what should be truly emphasized. Numerous terms also make the task of automated QA helping the translator nearly impossible because you begin to get way too many false positives and alerts to watch out for what is important truly.
  3. What constitutes a term? Take for instance "Board of Directors". With proper context, it should be logged as a single term but without it, or through statistical extraction perhaps both the terms "Board" and "Directors" will be flagged separately for the glossary. This results in terms that are mapped but do not necessarily help the translator and can in fact even throw them off base across different languages.

So that is what compromises an excellent glossary. However, how do we produce a good one? The first step is to get all parties involved to agree on premises:

  • the fewer terms the better (they just need to be superbly chosen)
  • mapping out the terms in the source language is just as important or more than the translations assigned to these terms
  • it is a work in progress and will require significant dialogue to achieve expected end results

Once people can agree on these premises, the challenge now takes on a technical dimension: how to ensure that we exchange knowledge efficiently. Emails and spreadsheets can do the trick but are inefficient and do not provide stakeholders with real-time control over terminology. Establishing a shared term base with clear rules for new entries and modifications over existing entries goes a long way ensuring that communication flows smoothly. Each and every feedback also requires proper mapping onto the glossary so that it matures through time and actually reflects stakeholder preferences.

On a personal note, it took me many years to develop a friendly relationship with glossaries. When working with large or imprecise glossaries, I tended to regard them more as a nuisance than a tool that could truly help me. As I developed more context-specific and precise glossaries with my team, I realized that they helped me tremendously during the translation process, allowing me to focus much more on the general flow and style rather than trying to remember and juggle terms. In the end, a glossary is an awesome tool but not enough care and attention goes into handling it with mastery. People spend way too much time trying to enforce concepts: more terms, more checks, more automated QA, and way too little time trying to master the art behind it.

Why transcreation is the biggest lie ever sold to the translation world

Why transcreation is the biggest lie ever sold to the translation world

Transcreation is the term used in the translation community to refer to marketing translations that are less literal and require a higher level of adaptation and creativity to satisfy target audiences. The term is catchy, trendy, romantic and a big fat lie.

My take on it: as the translation/localization industry took form in the 80s at the rise of global software and content that had to be available in dozens of languages. The surge in demand for global content resulted in a far greater need to translate content than enough talent available. Add to that equation that translation was -and still is- seen as a second-rate profession in most places. Unlike lawyers, doctors and engineers translators do not make top dollar money for their work. The result is that most translators in the marketplace are not equipped with the necessary tool set and not paid enough to have time produce nuanced translations that adjust themselves to the discourse needed. Under-valued talent breeding underpowered talent creates a vicious cycle because it is hard to attract and retain top translation talent when pay is not commensurate with the responsibility of re-authoring critical content in other languages.

So we are left with translators who can fly under the radar when it comes to more technical discourse but who lack the skill-set and time/compensation to craft enough their work to the point where it truly translates the original meaning. Agencies then had clients who were unhappy with the translation result whenever it required more adaptation and creativity to meet expectations and the easiest route was to blame the product: undermine translations as a non-creative base exercise and have clients pay more for a fancier product.

So the catchy name stuck. Transcreation became the holy grail of translations for many, regarded as translations that are nuanced, refined and adapted to target audience and purpose while translation, its foil, became degraded as a more thoughtless relaying of meaning without any creativity.

In my opinion, even the most technical of translations require thought and creativity as translators must go beyond the words and consider context and purpose for documentation, manuals, and UI. "Logout," "exit," "end session," "leave" are all choices for the same concept and yet each of them is deeply woven within a linguistic corpus. This discursive body must be considered not just concerning a glossary or of consistency but in contextualizing the overall brand experience for the end user.

Translating well and transcreating are all the same thing. A good translator will know when to be more creative to reach the required ultimate goal of the text they are working on and even if the do not know, they will know how to ask the right questions. Each text will implicitly call for the appropriate level of adaptation to succeed.

So rather than recognizing the value in the profession or charging in an unstandardized way, according to actual effort vs. word count, it was easier and less disruptive to single out only a few kinds of texts, typically marketing, that truly required creativity to succeed.

In the end, for me, every good translation is an act of transcreation, and there is nothing special about a transcreation other than a fancy name. By not recognizing and appreciating the real value of translation talent, the translation industry becomes fundamentally flawed. So rather than repairing its core, it is cheaper and easier to patch it up with "transcreation."

5 Things a Translation Reviewer Cannot Succeed Without

5 Things a Translation Reviewer Cannot Succeed Without

Reviewing should be a straight-forward and simple task — to re-view, to look at it again. The lack of clarity, experience and knowledge turns this simple task into a mismanaged and inefficient workflow step in most translation environments I have seen.

  1. No Ego — Reviewing is not about imposing personal preferences on a translation. It is about understanding that there typically is more than one correct way of expressing the same concept and about looking at a text the way the end-users will look at it.
  2. Using the right tools and using them correctly — I find it nearly impossible to review a translation without a solid translation CAT tool. A CAT tool is a software that typically brings together the text, translation, translation memory and list of key terms all onto the same screen. Just as important as the CAT tool is its use. If the glossary (list of key terms) is not up to date and comprehensive, ensuring consistency takes up excessive mental bandwidth and is imprecise. Most translators and reviewers I know do not have the habit of feeding the glossary as they go through the translation. They consider it time consuming and don’t really see the purpose. I notice that if I feed the glossary consistently, the glossary starts working for me, reminding me of terms previously used, flagging inconsistencies, and freeing up my bandwidth to worry about fluency and other important textual components. As most translators and reviewers I know are paid per productivity, they don’t see the sense of working at something that is not being monetized.
  3. Acknowledge shortcomings, research learn, and ask questions — nobody is expected to know everything. Most reviewers I know tend to gloss over terms they don’t feel comfortable with rather than truly digging into them and asking questions when necessary. In my opinion no one is expected to know everything and it is acceptable to ask for instance if a company terms its Senior Managers as Executive Board or as Management for instance, but not asking means that we are 100% confident on the chosen term or concept. Instead reviewers tend to focus on the areas they feel more comfortable with such as grammar. So a process that should produce a significant amount of questions and communication in my opinion is done for the most part solipsistically — that is without any awareness that the reader is just as important as the author.
  4. Be critical and contextual — it is not enough for something to sound right. Is that how the company expresses itself in previously published materials such as websites, documentation or collateral? And even if it is so, if it sounds strange it still should be challenged. So the reviewer is someone who should defy the translation at all stages, but defy it in terms of what really matters-context and purpose. Grammar and spelling are a given but what differentiates an average from a great reviewer is one’s ability to emulate the receiving reader.
  5. Own it — when a sentence is reviewed, that means the reviewer now owns it. I acknowledge that the text is now mine and that I am comfortable with my choices and decisions. This may seem obvious but accountability tends to get lost in reviewing.

So to sum it up — use the right tools and use them correctly, challenge each and every choice working outside your comfort zone, learn and research every step of the way, ask relevant questions, leave your ego aside, and make what someone else has done yours. Straight-forward in theory, but something I have sparsely seen in practice.