Tag: finance

Point/Counterpoint: Which constraints keep you up at night?

by on Nov.04, 2009 , under program management

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, October/November 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.

Point: All five, all the time!—but mostly quality, time, and scope.

Erin Vang, PMP

Project managers talk about a “triple constraint:” scope, time, and cost. These are the three constraints where a change in one forces a change in the other. Increase the scope of a project (the amount of work), and you need either more time or more money to pay for overtime and extra people. Decrease the time available, and you’ll spend more on resources or need to cut down the scope somehow. And so on.

The triple constraint is usually drawn as a triangle with each constraint at a vertex and a haunting reminder of what’s really at stake in the middle: quality. The idea is that if you don’t keep all three in control, quality suffers.

Traditional project management triple constraint

Traditional project management triple constraint

A different triple constraint makes a little more sense to me—time, cost, quality—because it’s a no-brainer that more scope means more something else (cost or time or both), but what deserves our attention is how messing with cost or time affects quality. You can boil this triple constraint down to a pithy,”Good, fast, cheap; pick any two.” Or as a contractor friend of mine jokes, “If you want it bad—” (wait for it!) “you’ll get it bad.”

Even that triangle isn’t quite right, though. Let’s go back to the PMBOK where five constraints are listed: scope, cost, time, quality, and risk. Quality isn’t a result of your other choices, it’s one of the constraints, and you have choices about it. Risk is a constraint, too. Many project managers throw up their hands and ignore risk, but the thing about risk is that—here comes another cute line—”failing to plan is planning to fail.”

So we should be talking about a quintuple constraint, and the correct image is a pentagon. Let’s make quality and scope green (because more is usually better to our stakeholders) and the other three red (because less is better).

A better diagram is a quintuple constraint

A better diagram is a quintuple constraint

The idea is the same: mess with any one of these, and at least one of the others also changes. But instead of drawing a warning “quality” in the middle as if it’s an uncontrollable result, and instead of ignoring risk altogether, we include both as the constraints (and choices) that they are. Our job is to execute projects with all five constraints in balance.

The shaded area inside the pentagon shows which of the constraints are most likely to keep me up at night in my work on the client side: quality, time, and scope. Some of our customers use JMP® software to make life and death decisions, so quality is paramount. We’re chasing tough deadlines, though, and keeping the scope under control is never easy. I am on a budget and manage a variety of risks, but cost and risk don’t usually keep me up at night because I can manage them over the long haul. It’s quality, time, and scope that have me putting out fires.

Tina on the vendor side wrestles with all five, too, but in different proportions that vary by client and project.

Counterpoint: Right now, it’s cost and time—but ask me again in 10 minutes!

Tina Wuelfing Cargile, PMP

When Erin and I first began collaborating, she introduced me to her five-constraint theory. At first it seemed odd and redundant, based on my traditional project management training on the triple-constraint theory, but the more I thought about the complexities of our industry and my client-facing role, I realized that I had intuitively been applying five constraints all along—I simply had not identified them as such.

As a multi-language vendor working in a wide array of verticals, I’m constantly looking at the question of determining fitness for use. It is one of the most difficult interrogative skills to learn or teach. Some claim that it is the client’s responsibility to communicate their goals accurately, which is technically correct, but I think serving in a partnership role with clients who may spend less than 10% of their time on translation projects is a more forward-thinking approach. Simply saying “Sure! You have a corporate bank account? We can fly you to the moon and back in two hours!” is not a winning long-term strategy.

Our primary industry sectors include legal, medical/pharmaceutical, and energy, but within those sectors, very different needs and roles emerge.

Legal translations involve the most diverse variations of constraints—from basic fact-finding, where time, scope and cost may be paramount, but quality and risk may be less important–to patent filings, where quality and time are often most important.

Medical/pharmaceutical work generally demands the highest levels of quality. Some translations just need basic research, but others have legal implications and need considerable vetting. Cost is not necessarily a primary factor, and an experienced project manager should advise the client on the risk of attempting a rush translation—often the rework needed to reach the necessary quality will erase any gains from rushing. PMs can assist by breaking the project scope into smaller, rolling deliverables.

Energy is a mixed bag—material safety data sheets (MSDS) must have top quality, and time and cost are usually not as critical.

Marketing materials for any of these verticals often have limited scope and time, but quality implications come first. Parsing trendy, creative writing aimed at US residents into text that makes sense abroad is one of the most difficult tasks we ask of our translators. (But seeing your company’s translation of an advertisement for disposable diapers is oddly thrilling!)

Whatever the business sector, risk management is what keeps me up at night. I work hard at proactively advising clients early and often about risks. Risk typically falls under the umbrella of cost but is inseparable from the other four constraints, in ways that can affect both client-side and vendor-side operations.

On the client side, say Big Pharmaceutical Corporation ABC who’s scheduling patients worldwide for a clinical trial or finalizing FDA submissions, a late delivery from us can disrupt hundreds of scheduled activities and milestones. My job is to understand the sequence of events that will unfold after our delivery, so I can advise the client upfront and help weigh the risks.

Risk is also critical for the vendor serving Big Pharmaceutical Corporation ABC. A delayed FDA submission might only lead to lower/slower revenue, but a translation error involving dosages or warnings could lead to patient illness or death. It is possible to limit our financial liability, but we could never limit our culpability or repair our reputation. So, I’m all for client education, but my focus is on providing leadership and consulting to avoid catastrophe. There is not a sleepless night nor weary day that I lose sight of the importance of the work we do and responsibility that we hold for our clients.

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Desktop publishing crimes (or, How not to do DTP)

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

Today I read a blog entry from the always wise, usually amusing Sarah O’Keefe at Scriptorium that got my vehemently-agreeing-with-her dander up. First, hurry off to read this entry at her blog, and then read all the other entries on her blog, and then come back here if you want to know why I’m so exercised this morning.

After I retweeted her link to the page and replied several more comments on Twitter (where you can follow me if you want), I posted the following comment on her blog:

An important point well made, Sarah. You go!

If I had a nickel for every manually-inserted page break that did nobody any good, I would be camping today instead of working.

Heck, if I had a dollar for all the localization so-called “DTP experts” who were the ones insisting on inserting those manual line- and page-breaks and insisting that certain categories of font changes were essential (they weren’t, they were just ugly), I would be camping someplace exotic today.

The saddest thing of all is that most of the tedious, time-consuming, error-prone, delay-intensive manual formatting busy-work that I’ve had to just about break fingers to prevent could more easily, effectively, and aesthetically-pleasingly have been accomplished with approximately one day devoted to reading the manual per DTP “expert.”

Why knowing about the most basic of DTP features is considered optional among people who call themselves DTPers is beyond me.

Which is why at the beginning of every l10n project, I’ve insisted on spending some time with the DTP staff to teach them the basics of the tools that their employers haven’t supported their learning.

Which is my sneaky segue into the real crime of the localization industry: that many of the most respected vendors are operating sweatshops.

The real DTP crimes in the localization industry aren’t so much all the manual formatting and time-consuming stupidity that I’m railing about above. The real crime is that smart, talented, good people are doing DTP for their employers (those big-name translation vendors you’ve heard so much about) without benefit of any kind of meaningful training.

Look, international DTP is challenging. When you go from one language to another, you introduce a mountain of typographical and other layout complications. When you also have to deal with the over-formatted, under-designed crap that a lot your customers are delivering to you, it grows even harder. When you add in the multitude of tools (many of them poorly chosen, archaic, primitive, or just plain weren’t-any-good-to-begin-with) that the customers are using and expecting you to use, also, what you have is a total nightmare.

So why on earth are those poor people’s employers, the localization vendors, not equipping their people with a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving these challenges?

Why don’t their so-called “DTP experts” know the basic and intermediate features of at least the top tier of available tools?

Why, when I got in up to my elbows with my vendors’ “experts” to help solve problems, did I invariably find that these experts didn’t know even the most basic things about how to design styles or apply tags?

Because many of those so-called “top shelf” localization vendors are basically running a sweatshop. They are hiring inexperienced people who have the most basic of qualifications (e.g. they’ve got passable command of more than one language, a trait not to be undervalued by any means), chaining them to a chair in a cubicle, and throwing unreasonable amounts of work at them, and their “support” is limited to easy access to coffee (which might not even be free) and limited access to the documentation of the product from two versions ago, which is the last time they paid for even a single-user license let alone the site license that they should be buying. And then they wonder why the DTP software makers don’t show a greater interest in making the l10n and i18n improvements that they need.

And this, my friends, is why you must do an in-person kickoff meeting at your vendor’s site, for every project, in every language: to make sure that that’s not the vendor you’ve hired.

When you’ve done this a few times, you will understand why you should pay a little more to a less famous vendor who does it right.

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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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