What Makes a Great Translation Project Manager?

Jun 22, 2023

A Translation Project Manager is one of the most important people to work at a translation service provider. The success of your translation project lies in the hands of your PM is not an overstatement. You may think you can handle a multilingual project yourself without an experienced project manager, but the stress and uncertainty from multitasking alone, can overwhelm anyone. Translation PMs perform dozens of tasks at a time. For example, they deal with multiple languages, plan workloads, manage translators, negotiate terms, check quality, overseeing entire projects from beginning to end. An experienced PM has the relevant skills, qualities, and abilities to handle a whole range of issues in multilingual translation projects being responsible for overall schedule and budget performance, selection, and management of the translation team, ensuring the quality of translation work, and serving as the primary point of contact for the client throughout the project. Their responsibilities include verification of the source document at the beginning of the project, delivering status reports to the client and timely delivery of the translated document. Some PMs are even responsible for negotiating rates from your translation team and for managing invoices. Translation PMs are essential for success to keep projects on track. Without someone in charge, it would be close to impossible to coordinate your translation process and meet required deadlines and goals. The quality of your translation depends entirely on how skilled PMs are and how they communicate. It takes a certain level of leadership and motivation to be a great PM. A PM manages every phase of the project and remains calm under stress and pressure. It is at times hard to recognize the wonderful work a PM does when credit is given to organizations and translators. We are lucky to have them. Whether you want to recruit a PM or become one to handle translation projects, you need to make sure they have the full set of soft, technical and communication skills to achieve greatness.

What Does It Take to Be Great?

First and foremost, planning is essential as it impacts the outcome of any project directly. PMs make sure every milestone is reached in time and without going over budget. For this to happen, organization and excellent time management skills are a necessity. A PM who maintains order keeps the entire team on track, following protocols and respecting discussed standards. In the long run, an organized PM can help clients streamline operations and speed up the translation process to keep costs at minimum. PMs produce a detailed, provisional plan for every stage of a project for review and approval. Everything is put in place for project management including selected translators and the technologies needed throughout the delivery of the project. There are many moving parts in a translation project. Keeping track of every detail is essential. If instructions aren’t clear or some are omitted, linguists will work in chaos and deliver inaccurate translations. A great PM is well organized.

PMs assembles your translation teams no matter how many languages are involved. Do you need native language experts in 10 or 20 different languages in a specific subject matter? Trying to manage this on your own is complex and can become your worst nightmare. You want to be sure that your translation is being handled by the best native language experts who are established professionals in the field. A PM is responsible for assembling the translation team with skills that are appropriate to the subject matter and style of the source documents. A great PM assembles the optimal translator team.

What It Takes to Be Greater?

Although translation PMs do not directly take charge of cost management, they do need to understand the fundamentals. They should develop an understanding of setting rates, producing, and tracking invoices, outlining a project’s timeframe, and other small financial tasks. Cost management skills become an acquired skill in the long run. Having a sales background helps with experience in budgeting and tracking expenses. With increasingly tight margins in many industries, cost management is one of the most critical components of project management. Cost management has two components: estimating what different project components will cost and then tracking the actual cost of each element. Both functions require attention to detail and high levels of accuracy. Part of building an accurate estimate is estimating variable costs such as labor. Unintended surprises in variable costs can cause a project to go over budget quickly. It is important to accurately estimate the labor resources required and build in contingency. The PM analyzes the translation project and chooses the right team for every client. Here, negotiation skills can do more for a translation project than fixing budgets and setting deadlines. They permit PMs to identify what clients really want and how they plan to achieve their objectives. They then communicate their knowledge to the translation team to make sure everyone reaches their goals. Negotiation, relationship, and team-building skills are critical. Negotiation is an art and implies attention to detail and a focus on finding common ground between the parties involved in the translation project.

Communication Is Key

It comes as no surprise that a great PM must be able to communicate well. PMs need to keep everyone up to date on changes, delegate action items and manage expectations. It’s important that they are responsive and easy to reach via email or phone. Email is especially important as it can also serve as documentation for changed orders or other important decisions. Complex projects often require many meetings. An effective PM knows how to make meetings a productive use of everyone’s time with agendas and action items. When presenting a plan or proposal, a PM anticipates questions and comes armed with solutions. Another component of meeting management is accountability. Project managers hold team members accountable to deadlines and make sure that deliverables are on track. If a deadline can’t be met, they help find alternative solutions and work through issues. Effective communication and meeting management are essential to project management.

Translation PMs deal with several tasks at a time, often communicate with people of different backgrounds, and oversee various jobs. All this considered means that solid communication skills are a must. Strong and effective communication skills are essential for a PM to guide the team through the highs and lows of a project and ensure the team’s needs can be always met. They should also be confident in sharing information with the team internally, as well as liaising with external clients. Lack of communication can result in poor leadership, ineffective collaboration, and unclear objectives. It also creates confusion, which can harm staff morale, and the fluidity of productivity. Project management is a series of intricate processes that involve balancing multiple elements and bringing people together with different cultural backgrounds. It also includes special attention to how information moves across departments to reach every team member at the right time. Translation PMs should know the ups and downs of teamwork and how to fix any problems when managing multilingual experts. They’re the interface between translators and their clients. PMs need to make sure everyone understands their role inside the team. Communication skills enable a PM to add value and ensure productive workflows to meet translation quality standards. They build trust and sustain a strong relationship between translation service providers and their clients.

Without a project manager who can communicate, the team can’t manage the client’s expectations or maintain a cohesive dialogue. This may result in putting the project on hold due to miscommunication and, overall, generate longer turnarounds and translation inaccuracies. A PM should rely on customer service skills to ensure healthy interactions between translators and clients. You want to work with someone who listens and reads between the lines to make the right decisions at every step of the project. A translation project doesn’t depend entirely on the linguists; clients also have a fundamental role in the process. When they don’t review the source texts or fail to give feedback on time, delays can impact both the schedule and budget. In this context, a PM needs to handle all parties and ensure everyone’s doing their job. PMs should also be creative, think independently, and develop patience and empathy to prevent conflict within the team. These abilities will enable managers to handle multiple requests and translation projects at the same time without missing deadlines. When challenges arise, part of the solution may require negotiation or team-building efforts. Perhaps an estimate that was provided at the beginning of the project is now higher, cutting in as cost. Or possibly a team was supposed to deliver by a certain date but is late. Whatever the challenge may be, the PM should be able to solve the issue with poise and ease, negotiating a solution and building strong relationships both within the organization, vendors, and clients.

Communication is key to the success of any translation project. Both you and the translation team need to know important bits of information throughout the course of a project. An effective PM proactively communicates with you at each milestone to resolve linguistic issues and technical problems. For example, a translator may have questions on how to handle measurements or terminology. While the PM may make recommendations, they must communicate them, and ultimately be the final decision-making authority. A PM communicates proactively throughout your translation project to make sure all bases are covered. To keep you from wondering what has happened with your translation project once you hired your translation team, a great PM will provide customized reports and status updates throughout the project.

Communication gets complicated given the number of people involved with any translation project. A translation PM becomes the single, dedicated point of contact for interactions between client, translation service provider, and translation teams who you should be able to rely on. A standard expectation is that PMs are available 24/7 to both the client and the translation team in case any critical issues come up. Having a dedicated PM gives you a person to address any questions, concerns or changes that may come up. Considering this every PM should have a backup who is available to step in when the primary PM is not available. A skilled PM team is involved throughout the project and takes steps to ensure that deadlines are met without fail. They take responsibility for the timely delivery of your final translation.

What Kind of Tools Do Project Managers Use?

Translation Project Managers use many kinds of tools and technologies needed for translation projects. The translation project manager regularly works with:

CAT tools (Computer-Aided Translation)

CMS (Content Management Systems)

TM (Translation Memories)

TMS (Translation Management Systems)

MT (Machine Translation) engines

QA tools (Quality Assurance)

A PM will utilize tools and technologies to optimize workflow and develop strategies to maximize quality and keep cost at a minimum. For example, multilingual glossaries and Translation Memory are used specifically to translation projects for optimal cost, time savings, and quality. TMS are used to document each task within the workflow while saving individual project histories for evaluation to make improvements for future projects. The translation process, file handling, communication, and QA processes are handled within the TMS. While ensuring the success of a translation project, linguists and translation project managers will use these variety of tools to maintain its consistency throughout each translation project.

A PM should know what challenges come from using various tools and how to overcome any technical issues that could slow things down. Technical knowledge is a must when looking to hire someone to manage your translation projects. A PM will always take the time to understand your technical requirements, writing style and communication strategy. The PM then becomes your representative to the translation team, ensuring that all your requirements are adhered throughout the project. A PM knows and understands your specific requirements and preferences. Being able to effectively manage risks is what makes a top translation PM stand out. Picking up on an issue quickly means it can be resolved without any delay or significant loss as a delay can impact on budget, schedule, and deadline. Of the many skills that round off a top-level PM, flexibility, time management, problem-solving skills, and risk management are at the top. A PM who can utilize every tool to their disposal manages translation and documentation throughout the process is successful. At the beginning of your project, a PM will customize the process workflow based on your specific needs. They will also prepare and monitor quality assurance checklists to make sure any potential challenges will be remembered and addressed.

At the end of the project, a translation PM discusses with you all aspects of the project and asks for your feedback. The PM also evaluates the performance and quality of the deliverables of each individual translator and verifier. PMs perform a post-project assessment, where the PM reviews the QA report, summarize lessons learned, and makes recommendations for future process improvements. The PMs technological tools are like a chef’s utensils and appliances to help prepare the delicious gourmet dish we call translation.

Flexibility, Problem Solving, and Open Mindedness

Things don’t go exactly as planned. We become stressed in situations which can affect productivity and the workplace environment. PMs should be adaptable by nature and accept the changes with a positive attitude. When last-minute changes are needed, or revisions are necessary it calls for a cooperative, understanding leader. A flexible PM can shape their approach and their team according to the situation.

The most important ability of a PM is to accept changes with an open mind. It’s common for a client to have last-minute modifications that could result in rewriting parts of a translation and handling complaints from linguists. The PM remains flexible in handling issues caused by updated source files. If the PM is not flexible and open-minded things may get difficult for both the client and the translators involved.

Building relationships is essential in the translation industry. It’s easy to overcome language and cultural barriers when people know they can rely on each other. A client can collaborate for years with the same translation service provider, and this relationship ensures a unique brand voice across multiple languages. Linguists and clients know what to expect every time they start a new project and work better, in a more relaxed environment. Overall, people are more productive, complete projects on time, and are happy.

Finally, the most important skill for project management is proactive problem solving. A project manager who is initiating communication, meetings and project direction will have more positive results than a project manager who is simply responding to the needs of the project. Anticipating potential issues and scenarios means you have time to think through alternative plans and prepare to pivot, if needed. A proactive approach puts the PM in control instead of allowing the circumstances to dictate the situation. Creative problem-solving finds solutions instead of excuses. Being a flexible open minded problem solver is the path to PM greatness.

Translation Project Managers at idioma®

Translation Project Managers at idioma® assess each client's needs, objectives, provide extensive consulting, and analysis to understand timelines, requirements, and budget to customize the best solution for their translation project. From large scale to small custom projects, each translation project is assigned to an individual PM to ensure that every detail is attended to with the greatest care.

Our PMs are real people that are knowledgeable and solution-oriented, who oversee the entire translation process anticipating your needs, maintain an open dialogue, leverage the best technology, assure maximum quality, and meet promised deadlines by carefully managing your project until its completion. Our PMs are open to communicate about any questions or concerns you may have.

We look forward to working with new clients and determined to help our existing ones in anyway possible.

Need a translation quote? Please contact us at info@idioma.com