Tag: program management

Free sample of Erin Vang’s facilitation

by on Aug.04, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

A recording of the webinar panel discussion I moderated yesterday is now available here.

Bridging the gap between software development and localization

If you’re involved in software development, localization, internationalization, or globalization, you should watch this for a great introduction to the issues particularly with regard to stakeholder awareness, education, commitment, and communication—it was a lively panel with more than a few “hot button” topics getting lively debate, featuring a number of industry experts:

  • Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Content Rules
  • Danica Brinton, Senior Director of International at Zynga
  • Dale Schultz, Globalization Test Architect at IBM
  • Edwin Hoogerbeets, Senior Internationalization Engineer at Palm
  • Adam Asnes, CEO & President of Lingoport
  • Erin Vang, Principal Pragmatist of Global Pragmatica LLC®

Free sample of Erin Vang’s work as a moderator

If you’re in charge of setting up panel discussions or conferences for your company and you’re wondering whether engaging a professional facilitator as your moderator for the event is worthwhile, you might want to watch this as a free sample—see how I work to make the conversation more valuable for the audience members and panel participants. I work as an audience advocate to ensure that the event delivers the content that was promised, that it’s lively and interesting, and that we get past the buzzwords, spin, and hot air right away—we get right into the content.

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Bridging the Gap Between Software Development and Localization

by on Jul.28, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

Erin Vang moderates panel discussion on software l10n

Cross-posted from Lingoport.com

So, you’ve developed a new software application, and have high aspirations in terms of selling your application to a global audience. Now what? Problems often arise between developers, localization managers, and business managers due to perceived lack of support, time, and money.

This lack of understanding can lead to great frustration within the development tiers. Join us for an hour long online panel discussion and learn how some of the best known industry thought leaders are contributing to bridging the gap between software development and localization.

The panel features the following industry thought leaders and experts from the software development, content development, internationalization, and localization industries:

  • Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Content Rules
  • Danica Brinton, Senior Director of International at Zynga
  • Dale Schultz, Globalization Test Architect at IBM
  • Edwin Hoogerbeets, Senior Internationalization Engineer at Palm
  • Adam Asnes, CEO & President of Lingoport

Online Panel Discussion: “Bridging the Gap Between Software Development and Localization”
Date and Times: Wednesday, August 3rd at 9:30am PT / 10:30am MT / 11:30am CT / 12:30pm ET
Registration: Register for free @ https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/964415249
Where: Your desktop

Erin Vang, Owner of GlobalPragmatica will be facilitating the online panel discussion. Erin has over twenty years of expe­ri­ence in sta­tis­ti­cal soft­ware doc­u­men­ta­tion, qual­ity assur­ance, project man­age­ment, and local­iza­tion, most recently as Inter­na­tional Pro­gram Man­ager for the JMP Research and Devel­op­ment at SAS, and pre­vi­ously with Aba­cus Con­cepts and SYSTAT. She is currently designing a localization program for Dolby Laboratories.

This presentation is intended for technical managers, software engineers, test engineering managers, QA managers, internationalization and localization managers, technical writers, content developers, and anyone wanting to learn more on how to optimize their global software releases.

We’d love to hear from you. Please send any questions or topics you’d like to have discussed during this panel to Chris Raulf @ chris (at) lingoport.com.

Update 4 August 2011

The recording of our panel discussion is now available here.

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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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Point/Counterpoint: Let the interoffice games begin!

by on Nov.06, 2009 , under facilitative leadership, program management

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, Index 2008 & RD, 2009 volume, 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.

Interoffice games and politics are nothing new; the trick is to avoid gunplay in the hallways. Few office relationships are more tenuous than those between project managers and salespeople. The following is an attempt to uncover what drives both crazy.

While both parties share a common goal—the overall success of the company—their individual stress points are quite different. Sales is concerned with client retention and frankly, making a decent living. Project managers are concerned with client retention and having a decent life. It turns out that your “decent” and my “decent” are often in competition. —Tina

Point: Top Ten Ways to Drive a Salesperson Crazy

Tina Cargile, PMP

#1: Keep bad news close to the vest

When a project is going south, please don’t let me know.

C’mon! I am trained to finesse the situation and provide solutions for the client. Your proactive communication helps me come up with alternative delivery scenarios. Often client-side milestones can be adjusted with early-enough discussion.

#2: Don’t address hazardous turnaround times.

Saying “well, OK” to tight turnarounds is great, and seems like a team-friendly attitude.

C’mon! When the turnaround is perilous, let me know! Better to arm me with an immediate counter-offer than to wait until the last minute to declare the project at risk (or hopeless). When a client asks for our best turnaround time, don’t ask me what they want, since the answer is typically “yesterday” and we both know that’s not going to happen! Tell me  instead what we can reasonably offer and I can try to make that work.

#3: Argue with me about “freebies.”

Sometimes it is necessary to shave margins to bring in a new client or to keep an unhappy client in the fold.

C’mon! I understand that you want to keep your margins in good shape for your next annual review, but keep in mind that some margin is better than none at all. You might also keep in mind that lower pricing means lower commissions for me, too. It’s not like I’m giving away your farm; I’m giving away a few acres of our farm to keep us in business.

#4: Accept escalated deliveries from the client no matter how questionable.

No need to call special attention to problems; I can read your mind.

C’mon! You might be copying me on project communications every single day, but you can’t expect me to realize when your polite “no problem” emails really mean “big problem!” I’m not involved in the day-to-day workflow, and your gracious, patient replies to the client look as calm to me as you mean them to look to the client. When there’s a problem, you need to speak up and get my attention!

#5: Send me a laundry list of questions for the client, rather than proactive suggestions.

Phrase every possible concern or objection in the form of a polite question.

C’mon! We are supposed to be the experts in our industry. Many of our clients are not as well versed, and consultancy on linguistic issues is part of the service we sell. Asking a client new to localization questions like, “How do you want us to handle text expansion?” is not a winning strategy. Instead, suggest options based on your expertise—nine times out of ten, the client will be grateful for the guidance.

#6: Tell me what you think I want to hear.

Tell me everything’s on schedule and on budget, and there are no risks.

C’mon! Happiness is a private matter; this is business. I have a job to do, and ugly information is best served sooner rather than later. I promise that I won’t resort to violence. Or even sarcasm. Well, maybe sarcasm.

#7: Keep me guessing

I don’t really need to know what’s going on until it’s hopeless.

C’mon! Both of us are probably working a 24/7 schedule, but please make it possible for me (and you) to fit in a little “private” time by letting me know about problems before they’re emergencies.

#8: Tell me you’re “swamped.”

C’mon! I probably am too, but learn to ask for help when you need it. Keep the focus on client needs.

#9: Keep customer complaints under wraps

It’s better to hide problems and hope not to get in trouble.

C’mon! I can’t address issues if I’m in the dark. I’m your partner, not your adversary. Don’t worry about failures; they are an opportunity for lessons learned and continuous improvement. Think of me as a client/PM advocate—I truly do see both sides.

#10: Give me grief about my “glamorous” travel schedule.

I’m just flitting around while you’re working hard, so it’s okay to give me grief.

C’mon! Yes, I travel frequently and stay at nice hotels. But most of the time, it’s just another hotel, I rarely see the city I’m visiting, and the presentation—whether at a conference, a speaking engagement or a client visit–is fraught with sore feet, exhausted facial muscles from smiling, time away from family, and airport misadventures.

Counterpoint: Top Ten Ways to Drive a Project Manager Crazy (whether you’re my colleague or a vendor)

Erin Vang, PMP

#1: Keep bad news close to the vest

When you’re running late or can’t get a component working, please don’t let me know, even though I know the schedule and feature lists were just best guesses that would need to be updated as reality came into focus. It’s really better to leave me in fantasy-land.

C’mon! Let me know what’s going on! If it’s a minor change, I can probably juggle things to make it all work. If it’s a major change, then I need to get started on helping management come up with a Plan B.

#2: Don’t address hazardous turnaround times.

Keep it to yourself when the official schedule is bogus, because it’s not your job to announce when the emperor has no clothes.

C’mon! We’re often asked to sign up for “fantasy schedules,” knowing that the true release date will be much later, but who does that really serve? The boss? No, the boss is staking his or her credibility on it, wants to know the truth, and s/he probably doesn’t realize how afraid you are to say it. The customers? No, the customers have production schedules riding on our delivering when we say we will, and they don’t really care if that’s sooner or later—they just want us to say when and stick to it.

#3: Argue with me about “details.”

Sometimes it’s hard to get all the niceties of a new locale working—like currency formats that don’t expect decimal places. Why can’t we just show prices in yen with two digits for centi-yens?!

C’mon! I understand that these things are tricky, but prices in Japanese yen don’t have decimals except on the Nikkei. If we don’t get the decimals right, we might as well not support yen at all. It’s not “a picky little detail,” it’s a requirement!

#4: Shrug and say, “Sure, we’ll make it work,” even when you know you can’t.

You might be rolling your eyes and thinking I see that over the phone and know what it means, but when you say you can do it, that’s what I expect you to do.

C’mon! If it can’t be done or it can’t be done on time, or you’re just not sure, say so! We can work with the truth. Empty promises get us nowhere.

#5: Send me a laundry list of doubts rather than your best estimate of what will happen.

When I ask you to estimate your time (colleagues) or quote a project (vendors), please list the eight million things that could go wrong.

C’mon! I know you need to cover your… um… bases, in case what we deliver is wildly different than stated, but do we really have to dwell on every possible risk? Can’t we just agree on baselines and come up with a contingency plan to resolve the inevitable discrepancies?

#6: Tell me what you think I want to hear.

No matter what I ask, just smile and say, “Right away, ma’am.”

C’mon! What Tina said! When I come to you with questions, it’s not to be polite, it’s because I really want your advice. Vendors: if we’re doing something stupid, tell us, and help us figure out a better way! Colleagues: if my questions are bizarre, don’t just answer them—help me figure out what it is I don’t know. I promise not to get defensive or embarrassed. Well, maybe embarrassed.

#7: Keep me guessing.

I don’t need to know what’s going on until it’s hopeless.

C’mon! Both of us are probably burning the midnight oil, so I understand that you feel bad about it, but your delay of “just a few days” is my headache of telling twenty people that our deliveries are late and, yes, they could have taken the holiday weekend off after all, now that it’s too late for them to book train tickets. I’d rather know sooner, and so would they.

#8: Tell me you’re “swamped”

It’s okay not to answer my emails if you’ve got a lot going on.

C’mon! I’m short on sleep just like you. You know that some of my questions need answers right away, and getting back to me two weeks later doesn’t help. Please give me the courtesy of a yes, a no, or an “I’m stuck until I get a decision from so-and-so.” I might be able to get so-and-so to make the decision that gets you unstuck.

#9: Keep problems under wraps. (This is another one for vendors.)

If you can’t figure out what our strings mean, it’s okay just to do a word-for-word replacement and hope the customers never see it.

C’mon! Some of our strings are lousy, but that doesn’t mean our customers don’t need to understand them. I’m your partner, not your adversary—don’t feel stupid about having to ask for explanations. The truth is you’re the best editors our product has ever had, and if it weren’t for you, even our English product would be a mess. I’m grateful when you call attention to the problems.

#10: Give me grief about my “glamorous” travel schedule. (Back to colleagues.)

I fly a lot, stay in hotels, and eat out on the company dime, and you’re stuck at home, so you have every right to be jealous.

C’mon! Yes, I’ve got “platinum-butt” status with the airline, but it’s not like I’ll ever have time to cash in all those miles on a vacation. What you might not realize is that I’m “on stage” from 8am until 10pm and then I start dealing with email. There’s never any time to do laundry, so I’ve worn my underwear right-side-in, inside-out, frontwards, and backwards. I’m gaining weight from all the meals out, I’ve watched all the TV shows on my iPod twice, and I miss my dog.

Look, we all face challenges and endure anxiety —that’s why it’s called work. If we’re honest about what’s difficult, though, and if we cut each other a little slack on the tough stuff, we can usually find a path to mutual success, or at least avoid dismal failure. Finger-pointing just makes us all bitter, but sharing responsibility and accountability for the bad as well as the good brings us together and enables us to grow as partners. Later on the “war stories” will unite us in laughter (if we remember to celebrate with a few pitchers of beer). Nobody will remember the easy successes.

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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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