Effective Query Management – the Key to Successful Translation Projects
Translation queries are a very important and necessary part of every translation project, and how well they are managed can make a big difference.
In order to manage these queries, Language Service Providers (LSPs) have the option of either developing their own customised query management system or adopting one of the existing browser-based collaboration systems such as for example Salesforce or SharePoint. Alternatively, they can choose to use one of the built-in query management options in CAT Tools. In this blog, we discuss the choices that Comunica.dk – Translations has made.
The beauty (and tediousness) of queries and why we need to manage them
Optimal query management is about creating good and effective communication channels between Linguists, Project Managers and Clients in order to achieve a final translation product of optimal quality.
Ineffective query management is detrimental to translation quality and also time-consuming and expensive to rectify post-delivery. It is therefore very important to manage queries dynamically during the translation and review processes rather than as a reactive process.
At Comunica, managing queries effectively is part of our translation management processes and key to our success. I wrote tediousness in the subheading, as Linguists sometimes find dealing with queries and their answers a nuisance due to the sheer number they sometimes receive, especially when working on large multilingual projects. It is particularly disruptive and time-consuming for them having to return to queries after they have delivered their own projects, which occasionally happens, when other Linguists, working on the same project but into different languages, post queries. Although it is technically possible to deactivate particular languages, when sending out queries via our QMS, we generally do not do that, as we would then run the risk of those potentially important queries not being dealt with in those languages.
Why is effective query management more important now and more challenging?
Although translation technology has advanced the translation process and management of translation projects immensely over the last three decades, other complications have crept in because of that same technology. The possibility of splitting up translation projects between several Linguists and Language Service Providers has necessitated a much greater need for both terminology and query management, in order to ensure that everyone involved in a project has access to approved terminology and is kept up-to-date with translation queries, their answers, and additional information. Being able to send out new updated source and reference files quickly to Linguists mid-project - ideally via a query management system, if these documents relate to queries – is also very important.
Additionally, it is particularly crucial to have an effective query management system in place, when working with a Translation Management System (TMS) where premature completion of a project by a Project Manager, before all Linguists have implemented all answers to queries, would cause extra work for the Clients, hosting the TMS.
Query management technology options in CAT tools
LSPs have the option of using integrated query management functionality in CAT tools.
memoQ Server for instance has its own query management feature called Discussions, which enables all participants in an online project – Translators, Reviewers, and Project Managers – to communicate effectively. They can create topics (queries) at both Project, Document, and Segment level, and store and manage these easily. To aid the collaboration further, participants in a memoQ online project can also use a chat option to ask questions and exchange knowledge. They can furthermore add comments on document and segment level, which can be marked as one of four categories: Information, Warning, Error, and Other. Participants can select to monitor a topic after which they will receive email notification of new posts. Participants with administrator or project manager rights are able to see and track the history of discussions as well as set up various User Permissions. They can also broadcast a topic, which everyone in their organisation receives.
SDL smartQuery is another query management system that you can integrate with SDL Studio and your own customised CRM system. It is a comprehensive system, including advanced workflow configurations, user permissions and integration with the terminology management system SDL MultiTerm for the dynamic updating of term bases after the implementation of a terminology-related query.
Comunica’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system
In order to have more flexibility, we decided not to buy off-the-shelf software at Comunica but instead to invest in our own personal CRM system and customise it to our own exact needs. We are always looking to improve our project management procedures and processes, and it is therefore important to us to be able to add new functionality to our CRM system as and when needed. Our IT Manager is able to implement new functionality quickly, making this a very agile solution for us. We use our CRM system for all our administrative tasks as well as for storing our records and data, including all customer, Linguist, and business related information.
Project management at Comunica
The project management functionality in our CRM system is extensive. We use a variety of fields to register different types of project information, for instance project receipt dates, deadlines for projects and Linguists, CAT tools used, progress statuses, and a whole range of administrative tasks. We can add important comments and do all kinds of filtering and searches. All this information ensures that our Project Managers have full control over the processes and can handle the projects in a smooth and safe manner.
Our Query Management System (QMS)
To assure the priority that queries demand and deserve, we have developed a QMS and integrated it directly with our CRM system. Our aim was to automate the management of queries by logging them in a structured way to ensure that we always send out queries and answers to all Linguists involved in any given project. We also wanted to generate a history of queries and their answers automatically in our CRM for subsequent lookups and searches. As queries can be very time-consuming to manage, particularly when dealing with large, multilingual projects, it was crucial for us to develop a system, in which we can manage them as efficiently as possible.
Types of queries our Query Management System can handle
Our QMS works for all kinds of queries: Our own internal queries, the queries from other Language Service Providers involved in the same projects but into other languages, as well as queries from our Clients’ internal Linguists.
Brief description of how it works
The search: We start by inserting part of the project name or the ID in the Job Reference field followed by clicking on Next.
The results: Visual representation of queries/answers/information already sent.
- Q1 – question 1
- QA1 - question and answer together 1
- I1 – information 1
The Project Manager can then:
- select who is going to receive the query/answer/information
- see the last query sent
- select which query the answer relates to
- attach file to the email, which Linguists receive (optional)
- insert query/answer/information text (usually copied to the clipboard and pasted in)
- click on Save, which triggers email notifications to all Linguists involved in the project.
The query status updates automatically during its lifespan, ensuring that Project Managers do not deliver projects, which still have pending answers to queries. In the above example, the answer to Q4 is still pending and therefore marked in red. This informs the Project Manager that the Linguist still needs to receive the answer and implement it in the translation, before it is ready for delivery to the Client.
Measures to prevent avoidable queries - Creation and application of Check Lists
Although we encourage our Linguists to send us as many queries as necessary, it is of course desirable to keep the avoidable queries to a minimum. At Comunica, we use Check Lists for that purpose. Some of our Clients send us specific sets of guidelines and style guides, which they require us to follow, when carrying out their translation projects. As these tend to be very long and therefore time-consuming to read for our Linguists, we have extracted the important information from them and turned it into Check Lists, which the Linguists are able to quickly digest and follow. We have created these Check Lists for various regular project components as well as generic ones for projects from new Clients, without any stipulated guidelines.
Our Language Leads (senior and most experienced Linguists) are in charge of creating and updating these Check Lists on a regular basis. We send the Check Lists out with all the relevant projects to inform as well as remind our Linguists of the various guidelines they should follow for a particular project. To ensure our Linguists adhere to the relevant guidelines, we encourage the reading of them as a reminder before the start of the project, and additionally ask that they fill out and return them, when they deliver their project. The instructions for Linguists to adhere to the attached Check Lists are included in all our handoff email templates.
Effective communication is key
Another way of preventing avoidable queries is through effective communication between members of staff as well as between staff and Clients. Comunica has recently adopted the dynamic communication tool Slack to achieve effective communication. In Slack, you can set up various channels for different members of internal and external staff, freelance Linguists and even our Clients, enabling a much closer collaboration between all the people involved in a project. Slack is a great tool for sharing information through the various channels between Project Managers, Technicians, Linguists, and Clients. In Slack, we can effortlessly share documents and our screens, make voice and video calls, communicate and solve any issues or doubts in almost an instant.
Which of the above-mentioned systems LSPs choose for the management of translation queries depends of course on preference, types of projects they normally handle as well as their available budget. What is certain, though, is that the days of managing queries in a non-structured way, without the use of technology, are gone.
The ever-increasing demands for shorter time-to-market schedules with regards to both authoring source texts and procuring translation services coupled with the challenges of keeping up with the management of terminology and translation memory content appear to impede the translation and translation management process somewhat. Consequently, there is today a tendency for Linguists having to work more frequently with poorer quality source content as well as out-dated and inconsistent term base and translation memory resources; something that causes Linguists extra stress on top of the already tight delivery deadlines their customers demand.
The ideal scenario of working with high quality source texts, fully up-to-date and consistent term bases and translation memories from the outset - thereby minimising the need for queries and query management - seems frequently less attainable. Presumably, it was what the developers of CAT tools and their users initially hoped for, but which increasingly seems to be more challenging than first envisaged.
A little over a year ago, Comunica embraced the challenges that Query Management poses. The development of our Query Management System subsequently followed which, being very effective and user-friendly to use, is a solution we are very happy with. We enjoy using it on a daily basis, as it gives us peace of mind, knowing that we, through effective project and query management, can ensure that our Linguists are updated at all times. As a result, they are able to produce the best possible translations for our Clients at a competitive cost. We will continue to develop our QMS and CRM system further as and when needed, which using a customisable CRM system, is relatively easy to do.