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.

Communication

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:

Ownership

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.