A team of dedicated project managers: that is what a translation agency needs in order to do what it is supposed to on a daily basis. Project managers are the direct and daily point of contact for clients, translators, and internal colleagues. Maybe you have already been in touch with one once, but do you know what kind of people project managers actually are? And what does a day in the life of a project manager look like within a translation agency?
The professional approach by a translation agency
When you think of a translation agency, chances are that you picture a bunch of translators working at a desk in an office, day in day out, continuously translating texts. Think again because the reality is entirely different. Translators nowadays almost never work inhouse at an agency or company anymore. Most of the time, they are independent entrepreneurs. They work for several clients from their own home office or any other location they like. That is perfectly doable these days, since nearly everything takes place in a digital working environment. The only thing you need is a laptop or PC and a solid internet connection.
A translation agency, like any other company, consists of a management team, salespeople, and IT workers, but for the most part, it consists of project managers. Every day, project managers make sure that all translation projects, large and small, run smoothly. They manage the entire process: from the initial translation request to the final delivery, keeping translation memories up to date, answering complex translation queries, and maintaining the relations with translators and clients.
No lack of variety working in a translation agency
The world of translation is a dynamic one. Not one day, week or month is the same. It is therefore impossible to predict what the work will be like in, for example, the upcoming week. This requires adaptability and flexibility, from translators as well as project managers. No new requests can be coming in for an entire week, for instance during the holiday periods. That gives some time for other tasks, such as updating the translation memories. In the following weeks, there can be a sudden rush and the number of translation requests becomes almost impossible to keep up with.
In addition to adaptability, this demands skills for planning and teamwork as well. Project managers, both individually and as a team, must keep a close watch on exactly when work comes in from the translators and when translations need to be delivered to which clients. Apart from that, a translation request often comes with specific instructions from a client, which cannot be forgotten. Think for example of proprietary terminology that must be used. It is up to the project managers to keep track of this, for themselves and for the team. In doing so, they ensure satisfied clients and satisfied suppliers.
The dynamic world of translation thus makes the work of a project manager astonishingly varied. On top of that, he or she has the pleasure of making a small world tour every single day. Just from the comfort of his or her office chair. Translation mainly takes place in a digital environment, for clients, translation agency staff, project managers and translators alike. They can work from anywhere, as long as there is an internet connection.
Consequently, at one moment, the project manager is video calling with a client in Germany, and at another time he or she is mailing back and forth with a translator from Sweden or America. Before the end of your workday, you have made a small, metaphorical trip around the world! Project managers are often people with a great passion for languages and everything that goes with it. Most of the time they have a well-developed knack for languages and a linguistic background in the form of a language study and/or an academic translation training.
Thanks to this passion for foreign languages, they are able to understand and comprehend the translation process. They can recognize and overcome certain pitfalls of a foreign language that a translator might have accidentally missed.
Seizing challenges, not avoiding them
The work of the project manager can be pretty challenging. We have already read that earlier in this blog. Another challenging factor can be the deadline. Recurrently, a client needs a translation in quite a short amount of time, for instance for a tender that needs to be sent out quickly. Of course, you want to help this client as best as possible. In consultation with the client and the translator (or several translators), the project manager will look at what can be done. Based on the expertise of the translator(s), the project manager chooses the best possible option for the client. This way, she or he makes sure the translation is done properly and on time.
Also, the various file formats and the type of request can be a challenge for the project manager. Sometimes, a task is so specific, that the translator has many questions during the translation process. It may happen, for example with software systems, that a whole range of individual terms, which function as separate buttons in that software, needs to be translated. If the client cannot provide additional information or reference material for these terms, then it is the job of the project manager to successfully manage this project. This means that the expectations must be managed, the instructions must be delivered properly to the translator and the translator’s questions must reach the client in a clear way.
The project manager; essential for a proper workflow in any translation agency
Now and then, a little tinkering is required with certain file formats to make sure they can be translated accurately. For example, with DITA files it is important that the client receives the correct file structure, just as he or she has provided it. If this does not happen, the client cannot import the translated files or file structure into their own content management system. This is something you want to avoid of course; for the client, the translation process should be made as easy as possible.
In short, as a project manager at a translation agency you must be an expert in many fields. You must be agile and flexible, and you must be knowledgeable of languages as well as the translation process and different markets. Furthermore, you need to know which questions to ask both your client and the translators. You must therefore have communicative skills and you must be client oriented. Fortunately, it is without a doubt highly rewarding work and a lot of fun!