localization

Rest in peace, Tina Wuelfing Cargile

by on Sep.10, 2010 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

My collaborator in “Point/Counterpoint” columns for Multilingual magazine, Tina Wuelfing Cargile, passed away last month after a long illness. Her time on this planet was too short, and my time with her was way too short, so even writing a decent bio is beyond me.

Her LinkedIn profile provides the basics. I’m going to attempt to fill in some of the color that’s missing from the business outlines. Those of you who knew her, just pour yourselves a glass of her favorite, pinot grigio, light a cigarette if you’re a smoker, and use a little imagination as you follow along.

Anyone who knew her would start their description of Tina with her sense of humor. Tina was always cracking a joke, often at her own expense. I can almost hear her explanation right now as my Mini Tina sits on my left shoulder (that’s where the evil angel goes, right?). “Well, of course, Erin—joking at my own expense, I’ve got lots of material!”

Somehow Tina’s adventures always became just a wee bit more absurd than anybody else’s, so her stories could keep us rolling for quite a while. This description of her introduction to country life, from McElroy Translation’s website during Tina’s years as their Business Development Manager, gives a taste of that:

Tina lives with her husband in a small town miles from Austin, where they are quickly filling their 12 acres with dozens of chickens, dogs, cats, geese, turkeys and ducks. She loves gardening, canning, quilting, playing with her “babies,” and listening to the frogs in their pond at night. They enjoy visits from their children and “adopt” their children’s friends, because their idea of family is whoever shows up. She also habitually and gleefully pokes fun at herself, and the description of her current hobbies and lifestyle brought to mind her introduction to country life.

Having spent 35 years in the city and on concrete, she proved totally oblivious to the “real world” on her first date, nearly 20 years ago, with her husband-to-be, a country boy from Honey Grove, Texas. While aware that the excursion involved scouting for arrowheads over fairly rough terrain, Tina:

  1. Wore stiletto heels and dressed in black from head to toe on a 100 degree day
  2. Identified a patch of prickly pear behind a ranch fence as a “cactus farm”
  3. Drank water from the river (who knew?)

He married her anyway.

Her humor wasn’t limited to self-deprecation, though. Recently while struggling with the illness that eventually took her from us, she posted to her friends on Facebook:

Day 7 in hospital: Stockholm Syndrome begins to set in. I’m no better or worse, really, just increasingly dependent upon my captors. Bizarre.

She frequently cracked me up with her quips about meetings that didn’t quite work out:

Reality is sure a lonely place when you can’t get anyone to join you there. What is it I saw on despair.com? At some point, hanging in there just makes you look like an even bigger loser. Worst cumulative score for a business trip EVER! I’ll spare you, which is more than I did for myself.

She grew up outside Washington, D.C., daughter of a test pilot who died in a jet crash in WV in 1957. Knowing that history makes me particularly enjoy this snapshot of Tina taken earlier this year.

We became collaborators in kind of a goofy way, and the better you know Tina, the more fitting that seems. We had both proposed talks at Translation World in Montréal about project management, so the conference organizers asked us to share a session.

That seems reasonable enough on the face of it, but as I read her proposal, I was shaking my head. I was a client-side program manager saying it was time to burn PMBOK (the bible from Project Management Institute, Project Management Book of Knowledge) and start over, and she was in vendor-side sales and saying people should read PMBOK. I thought, “Yeah, right—sharing a session is going to work really well!”

So I wrote to Tina and suggested that since we seemed to be in nearly complete disagreement, did she want to try a point/counterpoint format? I wasn’t sure what to make of her quick agreement, but within a few days we were on the phone trying to write an outline.

What a disaster!

We needed to give a 20 minute talk together, but after two hours on the phone we’d gotten spectacularly nowhere. Instead, we had accomplished the following:

  • We compared menageries—mine maxed out at three Siamese cats and two labrador retrievers, which you’d think would be competitive, but she topped that number in species, to say nothing of headcount.
  • We compared crazy career planning. I have degrees in music performance and have spent twenty-plus years in statistical software, but that was nothing on Tina’s degrees in English leading to a career in the recording industry, typesetting, running a higher ed journal, court reporting, and selling translation.
  • We compared notes on why we both think PowerPoint needs to be blasted off the face of the earth. And then she persuaded me to prepare slides anyway by promising to feature demotivational posters and that video with the cowboys herding cats.
  • We cracked each other up. Over and over again.

Later that week, we made another attempt. We didn’t get much further, but we did promise to send each other drafts, and after a few more email exchanges and seriously unproductive phone calls, we had our presentation. We’d also agreed to recruit Beatriz Bonnet of Syntes Language Group to be our moderator. Since neither of us were doing business with her and we both liked her outspoken style, we figured we could count on her to be neutral and keep us in check.

We finally met in Montréal—the night before we were to give our talk. Tina had arrived two days late thanks to airport closures in Texas. Beatriz had arrived on time, but as far as I know she has yet to be reunited with her luggage—so a few hours before Tina finally landed, Beatriz and I were tromping through the snowdrifts in downtown Montréal in our completely useless dress shoes looking for something for her to wear to our talk. When we got back to the hotel, we met Tina in the bar, where she was seated with a glass of—sing it with me, folks!—pinot grigio. We intended to go over logistics for our talk, but instead we spent several hours cracking each other up and deciding the talk would take care of itself.

It did, despite classic Tina circumstances: although we promised to show up early so we could (finally!) practice our talk together, she was actually late for her own presentation and we had to wing it.

She was late because she’d gotten stuck on the phone, rescuing a client from himself! I came to learn that she did a lot of that: talking clients down from the ledge, talking clients out of absurdly bad ideas, talking clients through technology that was too difficult for them to be buying, talking clients into sticking to plans instead of scrambling things up every few weeks because they didn’t understand the translation process, and so on.

Our talk was well received, and the audience’s questions and comments in the hallway afterward confirmed that they had gotten our point. It turned out that, although we thought we disagreed about the value of classical project management, we actually agreed about it but were looking at it from opposite perspectives. I was viewing it from the perspective of someone who had overdosed on methodology and discovered that facilitating a team’s teamwork was far more effective. She was viewing it from the perspective of someone who’d seen a lot of “project managers” whose training consisted of an endless supply of coffee and too much work. We were coming from opposite extremes—too much vs. not enough—but we met in the middle, recommending some basic tools used in moderation but in combination with compassion and listening skills.

High on the success of our high-wire act, we approached the editors of Multilingual with a proposal that we reprise the chaos in a series of point/counterpoint columns for the magazine. This gave us an excuse to continue getting together when our travels allowed—not that we needed one!

Generating column ideas was no problem. I still have our list, mostly unfinished. The problem was meeting deadlines! We were both overcommitted, so we repeatedly found ourselves trading drafts during the night before our deadlines and finally sending something a few hours after it was due. Editor Katie Botkin was patient with us, though. The results are available to subscribers on the Multilingual website, and they’re reprinted with Multilingual‘s permission on this blog:

I regret that Tina won’t be around to help me write the rest of our columns, because they won’t be nearly as sharp without her point of view. If you review the ones we did write, you’ll see that she was the funny one. She was also the wise one.

And the generous one. When Tina learned that I was leaving SAS after twelve years, she quickly persuaded Shelly Priebe of McElroy Translation to bring me in for interviews. None of us knew what I was interviewing for, exactly, but it was like Tina to work that way: thinking people should know each other and putting them together, and letting the details work themselves out.

Which they did. It was while talking for hours with Shelly in her lakeside guest cottage that I first began to envision Global Pragmatica and understand how my passion for facilitative leadership might fit into the localization industry. It was also Shelly who helped me see that localization was only part of the picture. It’s thanks to Tina that I now count Shelly and others from McElroy among my friends and valued colleagues—Shelly’s now an executive coach and she continues to be generous with her wisdom and encouragement.

I like how Shelly pictures Tina now:

Tina chose to slip away quietly, staying under the radar of our pity or our worry. With lucidity and acerbic wit to the end she passed to the kingdom that awaits her. Will she join the private Catholic school nuns of whom she spoke with such uproarious irreverence? That vision makes me smile. I will continue to smile whenever I think of my friend. Tina outwitted the demons who pursued her.

Tina went on to work with Beatriz at Syntes, and it was Beatriz who sent me the sad news when Tina died. Remembering Tina, Beatriz wrote,

Every time I think of Tina, her wisecracking and self-deprecating sense of humor are the first things that come to mind. She was sharp and witty, and just a lot of fun to be around. And she kept those traits to the end, using her humor to keep her spirits up as she fought the battle against her illness, in typical Tina style. In her last email to me, just a few days before she passed, she wrote, after a funny quote at her own expense and condition: ” ‘Scuse the dark humor. It’s too late to change now!”

Smart, generous, self-reliant, no-nonsense, witty, and just plain fun. That’s how I’ll always remember Tina.

Beatriz passed along a few more Tina gems, too; like the time Beatriz was planning a few days of hard ski-therapy, and Tina replied:

You will never get me on skis. My ankles are like toothpicks.

Or the time Tina emailed the entire office before a group event:

Please be sure to cut a wide parking swath for the confirmed pedestrian driving the really big company van.

Tina, you left us too soon. The world is a more boring place without you. Pinot grigio doesn’t taste right anymore.

Thank you for believing in all of us.

Please share your memories!

A note to Tina’s friends and family: I’d love it if you’d add your thoughts below in the comments. I know Tina would most appreciate your answers to this question: what’s the first time she made you laugh so hard it was embarrassing?

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North America from the outside in and the inside out

by on Aug.30, 2010 , under localization, random

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, September 2010 and is reprinted here with permission. Erin Vang would like to thank Multilingual for graciously consenting to republication of this article in the GlobalPragmatica blog.

In 1998 I planned a trip to Norway and set about educating myself. In addition to the usual stack of guidebooks, language books, and cassettes, I picked up a copy of Norway: Culture Shock! A survival guide to customs and etiquette. I hate being the Ugly American when I travel, so I wanted to learn some of the little niceties that would help me blend in.

I enjoyed the book, but it felt inside-out and backwards to me somehow—all kinds of behaviors and cultural details that I considered normal were explained as if they were completely bizarre. It was astonishing to me that, for example, the book went to the trouble of explaining that you shouldn’t ask Norwegians how much money they make. You shouldn’t expect Norwegians to divulge much about themselves to strangers, or even for that matter to friends. When visiting a Norwegian family in their home, you should decline offers of food and drink at first and only relent after repeated offers are made. Further, an offer of “coffee” doesn’t mean a hot beverage. “Coffee” means a full lunch spread, with open-faced sandwiches, a variety of side dishes, perhaps some fruit soup, and at least an assortment of cookies if not cake for dessert. If you’re lucky, there will be leftover dumplings and ham, sliced and fried up together.

Well, duh! That’s normal, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

I should probably mention that I grew up in the snow belt of North America in a series of small towns settled in large part by Norwegian and German immigrants and still populated mostly by their descendants, who tell Ole and Lena jokes and would call a Norwegian-Swedish couple a “mixed marriage.” It turns out that I grew up with a Norwegian sensibility about things.

Eventually I turned to the “About the author” section in the back of the book and learned that she was an Asian woman who had married a Norwegian man and moved to Norway.

So the book was inside-out and backwards for me! Ostensibly it described Norwegian customs, but I learned more about which Norwegian customs seem odd to an Asian and in turn what the Asian norms are. I also learned how my sense of normal differs from the rest of North America, because the very things she pointed out about Norwegians are the traits that have made me stick out since I left the snow belt.

North America from the outside in

I’ve since had the privilege of traveling quite a bit in Asia and Europe as a localization program manager, continuing my inside-out cultural learning over dinners and drinks with my localization teams and in-country colleagues.

What particularly strikes me about Japan is its quiet, compact order and elaborate attention to manners, and upon returning home from Japan I’m always startled by how big, messy, and casual we Americans are. We think nothing of taking a sip of a beer as soon as it arrives, and if we pause for a toast, it’s just “Cheers!” with much noisy banging of glasses, and no attention to whose glass clinks higher or lower. We walk down office hallways talking in full voice, we’re more likely to call something sarcastic into our colleagues’ open doors than to notice whether they’re busy, and by the time we’ve gone past three people’s offices, we’ve walked past more space than a dozen comparable Japanese office-workers would use, and all of it is messier.

Over dinner in Korea one night I learned what I’d never noticed before in years of sampling Korean music, dance, and theater: that it reflects millenia of sadness. Korea’s long history is full of invasions, wars, cultural loss, and great deprivation. Korea’s classical and folk arts express the reserved, wary sadness of a people ravaged for tens of centuries by neighbors in every direction. A Korean attending an arts festival in North America would be stunned to see singers smiling, actors laughing, dancers frolicking, and performers of all types making joyful eye contact with their audiences. Korean arts serve a more important purpose than entertainment and fun: they remember loss and struggle, they record perseverance, they offer perspective about daily challenges in a context of surviving the unsurvivable.

North Americans think we are familiar with Chinese food until we actually visit China and are confronted with the real thing. Theirs is a cuisine of poverty, making the most of scarcity by using parts of the animal we call scraps, using plants we call “weeds,” and using elaborate techniques and richly layered flavors to make them all palatable. We might think that “American food” would seem simple and decadent to Chinese visitors, but in fact they are as perplexed by our foods as we are by theirs. The thing that puzzles them the most? That our foods come in big hunks and separated piles—think of a dinner at a typical American steakhouse, where your plate comes with a huge hunk of meat, an enormous baked potato, and a pile of one vegetable, all arranged so that nothing is touching. I was startled to discover that the foods my Chinese colleagues preferred were those that mingled meats and vegetables in one dish, all in one-fork pieces, such as a casserole. Their comfort had nothing to do with the flavors and everything to do with shapes!

North America from the inside out

What most North Americans probably don’t consider is that we are all outsiders in North America. Our planet’s third largest land mass after Asia and Africa is home to twenty more nations besides the biggest three, Canada, the United States, and Mexico. We are all outsiders in twenty-two of those countries. Narrowing the focus to just the US, our nation’s young history is one of myriad immigrant and native cultures settling tiny pockets of a vast continent. Cultures have blended to a certain extent with those of the other peoples in the vicinity, and the resulting regional identities persist to the present. The lines are starting to blur in the age of national and global television, radio, and internet, but the potential for cultural conflict and misunderstanding is far greater than many people realize. I’ll share a few of the more amusing examples from my own life.

When I left my Norwegian enclave in the snow belt and arrived in Chicago for grad school, I couldn’t figure out why my friends never offered me anything to eat or drink when I visited. It wasn’t until some fellow Norwegian-Lutheran-Minnesotans from my alma mater joked about our common tendency to turn things down three times before accepting that I realized what the problem was. My friends did offer me drinks and snacks, but out of Norwegian-American habit, I always said something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m fine–no, thank you.” But that was that! My friends didn’t realize that the first three times you offer something don’t count!

I spent about a dozen years working for SAS and traveling frequently to corporate headquarters in Cary, North Carolina. Much later I found the Culture Shock! series book on the American South and finally began to understand some of my experiences there. When my colleagues had responded to one of my ideas with, “Bless your heart!” they weren’t gratefully commending my cleverness—they were saying, approximately, “Oh, you poor baffled freak… you just don’t understand anything.” When they called me “Yankee,” it wasn’t a slight as I thought; they were just acknowledging that I was different. When I jokingly called myself a “damn Yankee” once, I was corrected with a smile: “You’re not a ‘damn Yankee’! You’re just a Yankee. Damn Yankees are the ones who don’t leave.”

We’re all outsiders

When a friend of yours grieves a death in the family or is recovering from surgery, do you send flowers?

What on earth for? What good are the flowers going to do anyone? Where I’m from, we make a tuna noodle hotdish complete with crumbled potato chips on top, and we bring it over to the house, hot and ready to serve, in a casserole carefully labeled with our last name on a piece of masking tape. We do this whether we like tuna noodle casserole or not, because it’s what is done.

Being an outsider in North America is not a privilege reserved for visitors from other countries.

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Point/Counterpoint: Two Approaches to Project Management for the Translation/Localization Industry

by on Nov.02, 2009 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, July/August 2008 and is reprinted here with permission. Erin Vang would like to thank both Multilingual and her co-author, Tina Cargile, PMP, for graciously consenting to republication of these articles in the GlobalPragmatica blog.

Tina Wuelfing Cargile, PMP, began her career at the Chronicle of Higher Education, as Director of Business Operations, moved to Austin, where she supervised the construction of a recording studio and managed that operation for several years. She found her way to McElroy Translation in 1988, fell in love with the industry and the company. She has served as Production Manager, Senior Project Manager, and has finally crossed to the “dark side” as Business Development Manager (aka Sales). [Note: Tina has since left McElroy to pursue other opportunities that we cannot reveal just yet.]

Erin Vang, PMP, is International Program Manager of the JMP R&D division of SAS, the world’s largest privately-held software company and serves on SAS’s corporate terminology management steering committee. She combines her enthusiastic study of facilitative leadership and her Project Management Professional credential with considerable domain expertise gained through twenty years of experience in statistical software documentation, quality assurance, project management, and localization. [Note: Erin has since left SAS and founded GlobalPragmatica.]

About this new column…

Tina Wuelfing Cargile and Erin Vang had never met each other when they began collaborating on a presentation for the Translation World Conference in Montreal in March of 2008. They had both submitted proposals on project management, and when they were asked to share a session, they decided to present a debate, because their original proposals took essentially opposite positions. While working out their game plan together, they found that their views both converged and diverged, and it soon became apparent that the challenge would not be how to fill the hour but how to pare down their many ideas to fit into the hour.

Both are seasoned project managers and PMPs (Project Management Professionals, certified by the Project Management Institute), both have music in their career histories, both rely on caffeine to get through days that are too long and too busy, and that’s about all they have in common. Tina works in sales for a localization vendor, and Erin works in R&D for a software company. Their professional responsibilities could not be more different, yet both are considered localization project managers! They decided to compare their perspectives on many facets of localization project management in a series of point/counterpoint columns for Multilingual Computing.

POINT: Establishing a project management culture unlocks team potential.

Tina Wuelfing Cargile, PMP

My first exposure to project management came years ago in the publishing industry, as we tackled the monumental task of converting from hot-type printing to electronic printing. We ultimately succeeded, but it took many more hours of effort and coordination than I ever could have thought appropriate. After transitioning to the translation/localization industry, I found that the complexities of project management were only multiplying as I gained experience.

In getting to know other project managers in the industry, I learned that I was in the majority for having had little formal training. We were churning and burning ourselves out in an effort to keep projects under control, monitor what was afoot, and try to learn from our mistakes

I also realized over time that many of my clients had become successful by adopting a structured approach to project management for their own work, which set me on a course of study and ultimately certification in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) approach.

I recognized that many of the techniques put forward by PMI were far too complex and time-consuming for the average translation project, but it occurred to me that there were plenty of techniques that would be useful for our teams doing production, editing, translation teams, etc. That realization, along with my mounting frustrations from using my “hub of the wheel” top-down approach, led eventually to my reaching the following conclusion:

Traditional project management tools and techniques can work, even in our industry. However, traditional project management structure, with its centralized, top-down approach, produces little of benefit. Instead of greater productivity we get a baffling array of plans and graphs that are meaningless to the diverse needs of stakeholders in our industry.

I propose that we find the middle ground. By letting go of the centralized control but teaching project management knowledge, tools, and techniques to more stakeholders, we can empower them to manage their part of the process more effectively. Basic PM techniques help all of us reach the benchmarks of our particular specialty.

As Erin and I stressed in our debate in Montreal, context is everything. Readers who have attended industry events or read Multilingual Computing and other publications are aware of the diversity of structures and processes in the vendor side of our industry. Some companies have in-house translators, others outsource most of their work, and still others, like my company, employ a hybrid. Between my arena, and Erin’s, on the client side, the challenges are even more disparate.

We have clients, translators, and partners worldwide, in virtually every time zone. The challenges inherent in creating communication plans alone can be daunting.   Making smart use of technology and empowering virtual teams to work autonomously keeps us out of the “all-nighter” business and allows our project management team to stay lean and mean. (The mean part becomes most evident when I’m requesting a scope change for the third time.) We have hundreds of projects in process at any given time, and we have a combination of  routine work that fits into our defined workflow system and more  customized work that demands a creative, hands-on project manager. We struggle to define and manage myriad constraints, and our list goes way beyond the usual game of Time-Cost-Quality-Scope-Risk whack-a-mole

These are all subjects for future columns.

Another benefit of learning traditional project management is that it gives us a common language with our clients who “speak PMI.” Both as a PM and in sales, I’m process-oriented and try to get as much information as I can about my clients’ internal (sometimes infernal) processes, and having a shared language makes syncing up our processes that much easier.

Keep your company’s structure and needs in mind when determining which techniques to adopt. Equip yourself with whichever tools you can handle and need the most, and help your stakeholders learn how to navigate them and thrive with less pain. But don’t box yourself or your stakeholders in. There are many approaches to project management, and the body of knowledge, whether sanctioned by PMI, or not continues to evolve.

If you’re starting at zero, for heaven’s sakes learn some project management basics! Don’t reinvent the wheel. Project management will help you get rolling and stay organized.

COUNTERPOINT: Traditional project management isn’t suited to our industry; facilitative leadership is what really unlocks team potential.

Erin Vang, PMP

Like Tina, I started learning project management by managing some localization projects, getting really frustrated, inventing lots of wheels, and taking a lot longer to figure out basic tools than I care to admit. Believing there had to be a better way, I set out to learn project management properly, but the more I learned, the worse I got at doing it and the less I liked my job.

I went to PM conferences, I read books, I went through PMP training and certification, and I never stopped thinking, “Yeah, right. As if I would ever get away with any of this with my team!”  There was just no way that any software developers I’ve ever worked with would put up with that kind of bureaucracy or allow their creativity to be hampered by committing to detailed plans. But I kept trying.

Then I went to a class on facilitation, where ideas about how to serve groups by being neutral on the content while owning the group process sounded great, but once again I was thinking, “Yeah, right.” How could a localization project manager be neutral on the content? If an LPM doesn’t ride herd on every detail and make most of the decisions, disaster follows!

That’s when I had my epiphany. Where I was going wrong was by trying to be in control of things. In practice—especially in client-side localization project management—we’re often the only people in our organizations who care about and understand localization well enough to make decent decisions, so we end up taking charge. But in theory, a project manager is supposed to serve stakeholders, get decisions from them, and generally run things according to guidelines set by them. Somehow I needed to get my stakeholders to take control.

I found some possible answers in facilitative leadership, which is all about sharing control and optimizing processes to achieve fluidly evolving goals.

I decided to give it a try. I didn’t have much to lose—I hated my job and my team hated me. It’s not like I could make anything worse. So one day I abruptly let go of all control. I announced at the beginning of a much-dreaded project review meeting that I was going to be neutral about the projects and just serve the group, and if anyone caught me showing opinions or trying to take charge of anything, they should call me on it.

It worked. In the space of two hours the team went from avoiding structure to asking me for more structure. They took responsibility for the project’s problems, they started listening to each other and collaborating, and they proved me wrong about them. They were a good, talented team who wanted to work together better. They’d just had a lousy project manager.

I’ve never looked back. My teams and I are all a lot happier. My stakeholders are making educated decisions. My groups are making plans, committing to them, and sticking to their commitments. They’re raising red flags to me. When I stopped trying to control things, they stepped up.

Facilitative leadership is all about guiding your groups to work better together. Facilitative leadership puts people and communication ahead of process, empowering diverse kinds of players to learn from each other, to evolve process improvements, to discover innovation opportunities, and most importantly to design and build group agreements, commitments, and plans.

When you succeed at that—when you get the right agreements and commitments up front, and when you enable the people in your group to work together well—your group can succeed no matter how lousy you are at traditional project management.

Bottom line: if people are the key to your effort, then I think facilitative leadership is the key to your success.

For all we might talk about the promise and benefits of technology in this industry, the challenging and inspiring fact is that the most important work is done by people, now and in the foreseeable future. This is why it is crucial for localization project managers to maximize our facilitative leadership abilities, to bridge the cultural, technical, and stylistic gaps among the many participants, and to resolve wisely the inevitable conflicts between technical issues, market needs, and resource constraints.

Like Tina argues, it’s all a matter of proportion. Project management has its place, and I use some of the basic techniques like Gantt scheduling and budget spreadsheets all the time. If I could get my team to adhere to a responsibility assignment matrix, I’d be thrilled. I just think all those tools are primitive compared to facilitative leadership, which adapts to and exploits the best part of working in localization: the fascinating people who do it.

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Some thoughts on localization vendor selection

by on Oct.29, 2009 , under localization, program management

Localization and translation are almost always outsourced, and for many good reasons. Vendor management is therefore crucial to any localization or translation program, and it starts with vendor selection. Every aspect of vendor management—the financial and legal relationship, communications, project coordination, risk planning, and so on—will be easier if you start by taking the time to find the vendor or vendors that are best-suited for your needs. A huge number of companies is eager to have your business, most of them will bend over backwards to adapt their processes to your needs, and many of them are truly excellent. But one size does not fit all. The best possible vendor for one company might be a lousy fit for your company. If I had to get it down to one sentence, my advice would be this:

Don’t go by price, go by who understands your needs the best.

If you have time for more than one sentence, read on. The best vendor is the one whose questions make sense, whose warnings ring true, and whose projections seem realistic. Trust your gut on this, because like Dr. Spock used to tell parents, “You know more than you think you do.” How do you find the vendor or vendors who will pass that gut-feel test? Here are some tips. Are they selling what you need?

What do you need—translation, interpretation, localization, or internationalization?

There might be a few vendors who can do it all, but most of them specialize on one or two of these service. If you’re not sure which ones you need, here’s a quick rundown on the differences.

Translation, often abbreviated T9N (T, nine more letters, N), means converting text from one language to another. If you are a best-selling novelist in Scotland, your books are translated from British English into a gazillion other languages. Harry Potter is available in 67 languages including both simplified and traditional Chinese? They’re even translated into American English! That’s right–if you pick up a copy of the first book at Heathrow, enjoy it on your flight home, and then decide to pick up book two on your way out of O’Hare, you’re in for a surprise; Harry and his friends don’t speak the same language. I like the British English ones better, myself—I think it makes more sense when British schoolchildren use British colloquialisms—even though sometimes I don’t understand every detail. Did you know that when British kids revise, they’re studying for an exam? When American kids revise, they’re rewriting a paper!

Interpretation is when you do translation live, on the fly. Interpreters are the staffers who translate at meetings of world leaders or who work in the sound booths behind the scenes at the UN for all those diplomats wearing headsets. Interpretation is a special skill that goes beyond basic translation—interpreters have to work instantaneously without reference materials, and simultaneously, speaking in one language while listening in another. Interpreters also have to be attuned to the cultural and political nuances of a situation, and they typically have to be experts in (or bone up on) the subject matter at hand. You might think those world leaders are under incredible pressure, but the interpreters have it far worse! A friend told me about interpreting for an incredibly high-level meeting; she couldn’t tell me the details, but I was able to piece together that it was probably for the meeting between Presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin talking about nuclear weaponry. She explained that she worked in a tag-team of four interpreters working fifteen minutes at a time, because that’s the most stress anyone could handle. Another friend told about a much more pleasurable interpreting job, in which she learned all about wine-making while translating for a group of Spanish investors visiting wineries California.

Localization, often abbreviated L10N (L, ten more letters, N) takes translation several steps further. Localization means doing whatever it takes to adapt a product or service to the needs of a different local market. For example, if you make cell phones in the US and want to start selling them in Korea, you’ll need to do a lot more than translate the user interface into Korean. You need to change the radio to work on the Korean networks, which use a different protocol. You’ll also need to rejigger your software so that it can handle Hangul characters, and you’ll need to come up with a keyboard and text-input system that enables people to write text messages using Hangul characters with their thumbs. If you’re smart, you’ll also enable roman, Chinese, and Japanese character input, because lots of Korean customers need to be able to communicate in Chinese, Japanese, and English every day. And if you’ve done your market research, you know that the Korean market likes small, slick, colorful devices; models that sell well in the US are probably going to seem big and clunky in Korea. Localizing your product means addressing all of these barriers to local adoption.

Internationalization (I18N) is the global version of localization: it means doing whatever it takes to make your product or service work everywhere in the world, not just specific local markets. That could theoretically include translation into every known language, but in practice it means overcoming technical details that limit you to certain parts of the world. Internationalization is laying a good foundation for localization projects to follow. For software projects, it means doing things like adapting your code to handle the character sets needed by all the world’s major languages—for example, even if your product will only work in English for now, it ought to be able to work with strings (text) in any language so that you can translate your interface later but users can work with international character data now. You should make it possible to work with all the number, time, date, currency formats, and measurement systems used around the world. Your icons should be general enough to make sense around the world—and you might be surprised how images that seem obvious here can be confusing or even offensive elsewhere. It takes research and hard work to get it all right.

Do your business models match up? What are your business priorities and challenges?

Perhaps you’re releasing a new laptop around the world and need to translate the BIOS strings, the set-up pamphlets, and the customer support website. Your priorities are volume and turnaround time. You probably have millions of words and several dozen languages, and you need it all turned around in a few weeks. You’ll probably need to work with one of the huge, multinational vendors that can respond to that kind of volume and time pressure, who can put together a sophisticated workflow system for you. And you’d better write a contract that will enable you to enforce your expectations about turnaround time.

Perhaps you’ve made a defibrillator device that flight attendants can use when passengers have heart-attacks on board, and you’ve just negotiated a major sale to a French airline. Your priorities are quality and risk management. You probably only have a few thousand words and some graphics to get from English into a half dozen European languages, but this product is literally a matter of life and death—those translations and graphics have got to be right, and they have to be so simple that they’ll make sense to somebody who’s working under extreme pressure at an unfamiliar task.

Perhaps you’re involved in a major patent filing and you need to review hundreds of existing patents and patent applications around the world to ensure that your invention is unique and new. Your priorities are efficiency and legal expertise. Many of the seemingly-related filings are probably irrelevant, and you don’t need a full-blown exact translation of each one; you first need your vendor to sift quickly through the pile to help you determine which ones are possibly relevant, and then you need accurate, legally valid translations of that smaller pile. This situation is all about efficiency: anyone can machine-translate a CD full of text files and then put humans to work on the important files, but what about when you’re starting with a carton of printouts? And your device involves sophisticated molecular chemistry? And there’s a potential issue with exporting encryption? You need a vendor that has experience in handling these kinds of issues.

It’s always about price, but don’t go by the lowest bidder

It’s theoretically possible that there are some organizations out there who aren’t worried about costs, but I haven’t run into any of them yet. (If you’re at one of them, give me a call, please! I’d love to learn more.) For the rest of us, we’re under constant pressure to get more done at lower cost, so we have to pay a lot of attention to pricing.

But there are costs and there are costs. Sure, fif­teen cents a word is cheaper than twenty-five cents a word, but it’s not that sim­ple.

  • What is the cost of a law­suit?
  • What is the cost of mak­ing a bad first impres­sion?
  • What is the cost of an unmet dead­line?
  • What is the cost of a crit­i­cal warn­ing that nobody can under­stand?
  • What is the cost of a bill­board that makes your com­pany look stodgy?
  • What is the cost of your project man­ager quit­ting in frus­tra­tion because your ven­dor can’t help him under­stand how local­iza­tion sched­ules work?
  • What is the cost of your in-country reviewer rubber-stamping or ignor­ing things because she’s tired of your vendor’s trans­la­tors argu­ing with her?

These kinds of costs are never just the vendor’s fault, nor are they ever just the client’s fault. They are the result of a mis­match between a client and a ven­dor. The best clients and ven­dors will do what­ever it takes to avoid this kind of situation—to start, build, and keep the part­ner­ships that will be prof­itable and sen­si­ble for both par­ties. Qual­ity guru W. Edwards Dem­ing said it all with his fourth point: “Don’t buy on price tag alone.” (All four­teen points with amus­ing illus­tra­tions by Pat Oliphant can be seen here.)

Conclusion

Take the time to find the vendors you understand, who understand you, and invest in a longterm partnership with them. Every client-vendor relationship will have challenges, but good clients will invest in win-win relationships with their vendors, and good vendors will work with you to figure out solutions that match your priorities and your means.

We’re here to help

If you need help finding a good vendor for your next project, or fixing a broken relationship with the vendor you already have under contract, contact us at info@globalpragmatica.com for a no-obligation consultation. GlobalPragmatica offers facilitative leadership with domain expertise in localization, internationalization, and project and program management. GlobalPragmatica provides pragmatic guidance to help a client-side organization develop and achieve its global vision through sustainable strategies, effective tactics, and committed teams. GlobalPragmatica also helps companies in the localization, translation, project management, and facilitation domains work better and smarter with their clients. Learn more at http://globalpragmatica.com or email us for a no-obligation consultation at info@globalpragmatica.com.

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Erin Vang presenting at Localization World

by on Sep.25, 2009 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

I’m speaking on “Getting Started in Localization Program Management” at Localization World, Silicon Valley, in October 2009. Please consider attending my talk if you’ll be at the conference, and by all means find a moment to chat with me at the conference! http://www.localizationworld.com/lwsv2009/programDescription.php#C8.

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Update: thanks to Localization World and the talented Katja Zuske of Katzprints Photography for this photo from my talk.

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