Tag: program management

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.

K09_4948

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

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Why quality should be your top (only) priority in translation

by on Apr.02, 2009 , under localization, program management, random

Project management bibles like the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge, published by the Project Management Institute) are always going on about the triple constraint: time, cost, scope. These are three constraints that you’re always stuck balancing as a project manager. I disagree. I say it’s a quintuple constraint, because you must add the other two: quality and risk.

I’ll blog about this at greater length someday (I did it! See this point/counterpoint column.) but for now I want to make the point as simply as I can that when in comes to translation (and localization and globalization and internationalization and all those other numeronym words we’re always using) (okay, i can’t resist: l10n! g11n! t9n! i18n!), the top one—and if you’re going to push me, the only one—is quality.

Here’s my entire argument:

http://www.engrish.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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