Tag: client

Point/Counterpoint: Communication

by on Nov.10, 2009 , under program management

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, April/May 2009 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.

POINT: The “right” way to communicate depends on the other people

Erin Vang, PMP

I once started writing up communication guidelines for all the project managers involved in my program (including several at vendors) and after several pages decided that I’d better keep it to myself, because my list made it far too obvious how neurotic I am. Some of the greatest hits I later culled from that list for a slightly less neurotic-looking set of guidelines:

  1. Always put the project codename in the subject line (and various details that boiled down to “do me a favor and spell it correctly”).
  2. Also include a hint about the actual subject in the subject line (don’t just reply to whatever I sent you last to save yourself the trouble of starting a new thread)
  3. Please! No emails just to say “thanks.” Let’s just agree that we’re all grateful and polite and save the thank you emails for the truly heroic deeds.

And then there were guidelines to avoid the CC-proliferation problem—where you CC one person on an email as an FYI, and then the reply comes back with a few more questions and a few more CCs, and so on, and before you know it everyone from the vice president of your company to the assistant vacation substitute for your project manager from two years ago who’s no longer with the vendor are all involved in a lively discussion of whether Coke is “pop” or “soda.” (True story, only slightly exaggerated.)

Did anyone notice that I started right off with email and wonder why?

I didn’t think so.

Which brings me to my real points, which are far more important than learning anyone’s list of email pet peeves. First, the only right way to communicate is the way that works for the people on both sides of the communication. Let me illustrate with an example:

Not long ago I needed to discuss something with Tina, my collaborator in this “Point/Counterpoint” column. I didn’t want to write email, because the subject was sensitive, and to me it was quite urgent, so I phoned her. When she didn’t answer, I left voicemail describing the situation and asking her to call back. She never quite got back to me, which was frustrating. Sooner or later we did get in touch and worked it all out, but it didn’t happen quickly, and I couldn’t figure out why…

…Until recently, when Tina and I were exchanging ideas about this very column you’re reading now. She wrote, “It is clear that everyone has their own best ‘receiving’ style. For me, it’s written communication—gives me time to research, reflect, and basically not screw up my answer. I’m guessing you like the phone better, or maybe it’s a mix. I have an aversion to phone calls—it’s like a command to stop what you’re doing and thinking about. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Long distance was verboten when I was young—unless someone was near death. If they were already dead, a letter would do. And we wrote lots of letters.”

There was my answer—it was my fault! Although I’d left voicemail and asked her to call me back, I had intentionally made my message sound patient and low-key. Why? Because I was likely to be asking Tina for a pretty big favor, and I didn’t want to be pushy about it. (That’s how I was raised!) Next time I’ll know that unless I make it clear my voicemail is urgent, I’d be better off sending email.

As for my preferences, Tina guessed correctly: I prefer a mix of email and phone. For anything easy or brief, I start with email, for many of Tina’s reasons plus a few of my own. I don’t like to interrupt people. Often the details will be easier to understand visually than aurally. Email is often faster.

However, for anything tricky or lengthy, I switch to phone. I’ve found that many people either can’t or don’t understand things completely and accurately when they have to read more than an inch or two of text, and some topics are too complex to convey in two inches. In this case, a phone conversation is usually a better idea.

Unfortunately, writing a six-inch email is often the best way for me to think through the issues and state them clearly. If I just pick up the phone, I’m likely to frustrate the other person with a lot of circling around and unnecessary detail. In such a situation, I’ve found that it’s best to go ahead and write the long email to get my own head clear. Then I save it in Drafts, pick up the phone, and discuss the big concepts with the other person. Later I’ll follow up with email as needed to chase down final answers and details—and with any luck, the follow-up email will be much shorter and simpler than my first draft. [More on this idea within a blog post about meetings.]

One more point: both parties are responsible for both the sending and receiving of every message. I’ll explain.

For the sender: Don’t assume that just because you’ve said it or sent it that the other person has heard it or received it; lots of things can go wrong, including simple human error. (Have you ever read a message and then accidentally filed or deleted it before you replied or took action?) Also don’t assume that the other person has understood it. Even short, simple messages can be misunderstood. It happens all the time. Until you receive a reply that demonstrates the other person received your message and understood it correctly, you are still responsible.

For the receiver: Don’t assume that just because you’ve heard it or received it that the sender knows that. If it’s urgent to that person, have the courtesy to reply, even if only to say, “I’ll get back to you on this later.”

Does that contradict my third email rule, “No emails just to say thanks”? Sometimes. And if you talk to my project managers, they’ll tell you I’ve often left them dangling, not sure whether I received their important deliveries or not. They think it’s a stupid rule and I need to get over it. They’re probably right. Frankly, this is something I need to work on. I don’t like to reply before I’ve confirmed or answered everything in the email, because if I see that I’ve replied to a message, I’ll sometimes mistakenly assume later on that since I replied, that email is “done” and I can file or delete it. To avoid that mistake, I prefer to wait. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s taken me a while to get back to it, and in the meantime the folks on the other end might really need to know whether they can bill me, or release a resource, or go home to bed, or whatever.

Which brings me to my last point: most of us need some work on our communication skills, and in the meantime, we owe some apologies when we drop the ball. To all my project managers who have wanted to smack me for too often not sending timely replies: you know who you are, and if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!

COUNTERPOINT: Be clear about what you need, and consider your audience

Tina Cargile, PMP

As Erin says, there are different sending and receiving styles and preferences—lately it has been fashionable to complain about email, but there are complaints galore out there regarding both verbal and written communications.

We work in an industry that is all about meaning and communication, yet we don’t do much better than folks in other industries at employing effective messaging. There are missteps and irritants possible no matter how one sends a message–either phone or email. How often I have written a draft message and then returned to discover that what I “said” wasn’t what I “meant” at all! Or realized that the receiver was apt to see any suggestions as criticism, which called for a softening of the message.

As a lousy notetaker with a decent, yet aging memory, storing the call notes is essential—but by the time I get around to doing that, some details might have drifted away. With email, I can review every word and confirm that I received the complete message.

Finally, I’m trying to keep up with three different phone numbers (home office, office, and Blackberry), but I can always go a single place to check email when I’m about to board a plane or walk into a client’s office. It might take a couple of hours before I get a moment to check voicemail messages on all three phone lines.

I agree with all of Erin’s ground rules for email communication—having received one too many messages that essentially say “Hey, you know that thing we were talking about a couple of weeks ago? I vote yes.” Huh? Preparing a coherent message includes some preparation. Don’t assume I remember what we talked about a couple of weeks ago—I’ve slept since then.

The same goes for phone calls—I love Erin’s idea of composing an email to get your thoughts in order, and then placing the call. Nothing is as irritating as spending 15 minutes on the phone with someone who clearly doesn’t have a handle on the question they’re trying to ask. Except maybe those who don’t have the information handy on the subject of the call (“hold on for 5 minutes while I print all of this information out”). I usually request that they call back once they have all the data in order. Nicely, of course. [Erin’s comment: I once apologized to someone for answering their call at a time that was inconvenient for them. They didn’t get it.]

In fact, when planning a call to discuss complex issues or a number of related topics, I find it useful to send a call agenda before the call, if possible. Bullet points only! This means the receiver has some idea of the scope of the discussion and can be prepared with supporting information, status, what have you, before I dial the phone.

There are also differing schools of thought among those email aficionados among us. For example, some of my colleagues prefer that I gather up every single topic or action item needed that week to be sent in a single email. I can assure you that such an email would filter down and down in my Inbox; at the very least, I would likely miss one of the to-dos as I circle back to the original email over and over again. Personally I prefer discrete, individual messages, at least grouping by a single topic. This way, I can complete a task and it’s done and done!

On the other end of the spectrum, I despise voicemail messages that say “call me!” If there is a sensitive communication that you’d rather not write down, at least give me a hint. Often I will call back and find that the issue is something I could have researched and been ready to answer right then—but I have to call them back again, once I’ve gathered the information needed to answer.

I agree with Erin completely about the no “thanks” rule. If you must have a response within a certain time–don’t be shy—tell me! Another option is to request a read receipt for urgent matters only. I’ve run into correspondents who request a receipt for every single message they send, which tends to dilute the impact when something is truly time-sensitive or urgent. As I’m fond of saying, “when everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.”

Whichever “tools” you use to send and receive information, the most critical task is to be clear about what you need or are asking, and to think about the preferences of those you’re communicating with. It makes life much easier to remember that this client always wants a phone call and that client responds to voicemails with an email reply.

Finally, read your message before sending with the personality of the receiver in mind. Whether or not you meant to say “you really screwed up on this,” some receivers will hear that nonetheless, unless you include a line like “great job on this! I have some ideas that may or may not be useful—you let me know.”

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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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Getting started in localization project management

by on Jan.16, 2009 , under localization

Congratulations, you’re in charge of localization! …So now what?!

It’s bizarre but not all that uncommon that organizations will suddenly realize that they could market their products or services outside the US and Canada, and just as suddenly they pick somebody who doesn’t seem all that busy and put them in charge.
So if you’re the lucky new localization project manager, congratulations! But what do you do next? Or if you’re the executive who realizes this is crazy, what’s your alternative? How do you convince everyone else that localization is a nontrivial undertaking?

The good news

First, the good news: Some of today’s top experts in localization started exactly this way. I recently led an industry conference where the question kept coming up: How did you get into this field? So finally I asked everybody in the room to describe their background and how they ended up involved in localization. Only a handful had a background in languages, and only one had formal training in localization, translation, or globalization. Yet all were highly successful professionals. My best guess is that the field attracts talent and filters out mediocrity, perhaps because its challenges are layered and exotic (and fun!).

The bad news

Now the bad news: Localization is incredibly complex, and most people spend years at it only to discover they’re still just scratching the surface. Moreover, running a successful localization program often also requires educating the rest of the organization about how international market expectations differ, and advocating why those differences matter. Localization could have a bigger effect on short—and long-term revenue growth than any other activity in the organization, yet many executives will be looking at it as a giant money-sucking monster.

So where do you start? I have three tips.

  1. Find a good vendor.
  2. Lead with your strengths.
  3. Get help with the rest.

Number one, you’re going to need a good vendor—or maybe several of them—no matter what you do. Localization is almost always outsourced, and for many good reasons. Vendor management is a whole discipline in itself, but if I had to get it down to one sentence, it would be this: “Don’t go by price, go by who understands your needs the best.” 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.”

Number two, lead with your strengths. If you know project management and development process, then take charge of the logistics, ride herd on your budgets and schedules, and be sure to under-promise and over-deliver. Do that and you’ll earn upper management’s confidence, and they’ll listen to you when you ask for resources. If you know the product or service inside and out, then share that knowledge with your translation team. Get involved in teaching it to them and answering their questions. Do that, and you’ll earn your team’s confidence, and they’ll have your back when challenges arise. If you’re a good people person, then put your energy into helping your group become a great team. Do that, and they’ll accomplish astonishing things.

Number three, get help. Nobody can learn it all, nobody can do it all, and faking it doesn’t work out as a strategy long term. To develop wise strategies and effective tactics in localization by yourself, you would need to become conversant in many or all of the following in addition to all the technical details of your product or service:

  • Finance
  • Contract administration
  • Project management
  • Linguistics
  • Procurement and vendor management
  • Local market requirements
  • Global market research
  • Global business practices and work cultures
  • Terminology management
  • Content management
  • Product technology and development processes
  • Desktop publishing technology and trends
  • Quality assurance
  • Translation memory, alignment, and leverage (reusability)
  • Computer-assisted translation technology
  • Virtual, distributed team leadership
  • Facilitation and conflict resolution
  • Translation workflow
  • Localization best practices and industry trends
  • Organizational politics
And on and on…

Conclusion

Obviously it’s ridiculous to think that anyone could develop all these strengths during their first project cycle, or for that matter their first five years, yet all will come into play, and probably sooner rather than later. So lead with your strengths, get all the training you can, and seek the help you deserve.

We’re here to help

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.

This article also appeared at GlobalPragmatica partner ENLASO’s Language Technology Center. For more information on how ENLASO can assist you with all of your localization needs, see http://www.translate.com.

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