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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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:


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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…


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 https://globalpragmatica.com or email us for a no-obligation consultation.

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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