E.g., 11/13/2019
E.g., 11/13/2019

Becoming a Successful Translation Manager (Part Two)

By: Lonie Goldsberry (PDI Ninth House)


12 March 2010

In Part One of this series I discussed how I created a basic process for translation management, and we looked at how and when I use a more rigorous process based on the product, the client, and my company's liability exposure.

In Part Two, I’ll be discussing:

  • Quality issues and learning to partner with vendors
  • Supporting internal reviewers
  • Organizational buy-in for your translation process on a functional level

Quality Issues:  Learning to Partner with Vendors

Unless the source content lacks any sort of complexity, it is necessary for translation clients to allow some learning time on the part of their vendors and chosen translation teams. In order for vendors to learn your content, strategies need to be developed where this learning can occur, such as adding steps or touch points for the vendor to the project. Becoming a partner with my vendors helps me negotiate the processes needed for any particular project. It helps develop the working relationship and establishes loyalty. With loyalty comes a desire to work out issues in a cooperative manner not to mention excellent customer service.

Let’s face it – and I don’t even have to say it to this readership, but – translation quality is often subjective. A translation can be re-written several times and you’ll still find someone will have something negative to say about it. Send it to 20 people and you can expect to get comments and revisions from 75% of them.

I remember once I received the following comment on a French review: “This translation doesn’t even sound like it’s from a real French person”. Of course, the reviewer didn’t know that someone on their own team had previously reviewed the text!  What was worse, the original reviewer was a very experienced and a well-respected reviewer. As localization professionals, we recognize that some will “exaggerate” the situation in order to influence you to take action as desired. As a translation manager, I have to filter through all of these comments to find the “truth” and then the best course of action.

As suggested previously, you could continue this review process through several and many iterations and still find that some people are not satisfied. What you will find though – where quality is in question – is that the majority of the criticism is often directed at the vendor.  If you have found that your vendor delivers great customer service and has delivered quality in the past, then it is best to allow your vendor to learn from the project and recoup their own translation.

For example, I had a project where I was translating a workshop for one of my larger clients into Russian. We did the translation; the client reviewed it, and – no big deal, right?  Imagine my surprise when after the first workshop, I received a phone call from a very concerned account manager saying that the client was hysterical about the translation. The person who delivered the workshop indicated that the translation was frightening for the participants because it sounded like it was “KGB style”. Indeed, the reviewer’s previous occupation before coming to the U.S. was as a translator for the KGB.

I immediately called my vendor and asked them to have a third-party translator take a look at the translation and provide their opinion. The third-party translator indicated that the original translation was too literal and certainly could be improved, though he would hardly call it “KGB style”. Even the original translator understood that there were some issues during translation and was somewhat concerned about the flow. The vendor agreed to re-work the translation with this third translator at no charge to me, and therefore, no charge to my client.

This allowed me to have a conversation with the client where I accepted responsibility for the translation and could ensure that we would fix it. When the new translation was finalized, the initial critic said, “This is almost perfect. Thank you for this excellent work”.  What I had was a very satisfied client who appreciated that I took responsibility and took steps to correct the situation. Of course, it would have been much more difficult if I didn’t have a vendor who was interested in working with me to find an acceptable solution for my client, thus providing me with great customer service. But, most importantly, we had built a solid team for PDI NH’s future Russian translations.  Based on this experience, I am now willing to pay extra, if necessary, to secure the correct translation team. Depending on the quantity of the content, we do sample translations at the beginning of the project to ensure that the translators are on the right track.

Another important learning experience for me was when I had a vendor translate a new report template. At PDI NH, our Japan office is very involved and responsive to requests for reviews. After the report was translated, we sent the first sample to PDI Japan, because I thought they would want to be the ones to do the review. It was a disaster. Imagine taking a 45-page report, cutting it into 650 pieces, translating those pieces and then putting the translated pieces together, expecting that it will work out perfectly. Our office reported that the translation didn’t make sense, and I found myself in danger of undermining my reputation among the Japanese group.

Again, it was time for my mea culpa. I wrote an email to my boss, my boss’ boss and all their bosses. I explained what had happened, its effect, and what I should have done differently. I should have allowed my vendor to review the translation once it was loaded into the system before sharing it with our Japan reviewers.  I had provided them with an Excel file containing bits and pieces of translation. As such, they deserved the opportunity to view the loaded version of the translation to make any necessary edits. I do take this extra step in projects now, and it saves our consultants time when doing their reviews. Disasters like this can take years to recover confidence.

Another critical component of partnering with your vendor is supporting them by providing proper expectations at the outset of any project. If I am embarking on a new language for the first time on a particular content type, I now know that the initial translations will be far from perfect. Therefore, I set expectations with my consultant reviewers and help them to understand the importance of the first-time review. Essentially, my reviewers are helping both my vendor and me to create a foundation for this language and content type. It may take more work in the early stages, but by sharing the consultant review with the vendor, the consultants are providing a learning opportunity for the translators on future translation projects. This generally results in higher translation quality.

Supporting Internal Reviewers

Finding sufficient internal resources for review projects can be challenging. Due to the psychometric nature of much of our content, we require that most of our reviews be done by internal consultants. These consultants are strapped with their own clients’ requests and with meeting metrics for their billable percentage.

How can we provide incentives for these reviewers to help me with projects that are perhaps unrelated to their core jobs? It helps if I have a paying client and can offer billable hours to the reviewer. It also helps if I can provide them with fantastic support when they need something from me.

Positioning the reviews is very important. Besides setting expectations, it is also necessary to explain to the reviewer the value and importance of their role.  I try to use reviewers who have been able to consistently deliver for me. This ensures not only we are consistent in the reviews (which helps the translators to learn) but also guarantees a certain level of quality.   I have openly recognized these reviewers as language experts for PDI NH. The assurance that I respect their work and that I will provide as much incentive as possible again builds a bond and a great working relationship that helps me to be successful as a translation manager.

Organizational Buy-in

At PDI NH we value the opinion of each and every leader so much  that occasionally we paralyze advancements aimed at efficiency and improvement. Almost four years ago, I participated on a translation task force at PDI NH where people from around the globe and from different teams. The goal of the taskforce was to identify a basic shared philosophy and make suggestions about how we would manage translation company-wide. For us, it was a centralized process and I would be the manager. Although the team was in agreement and provided advice to the organization, it took a new face to support the ideas.

It wasn’t that we were being ignored; it was that we had continuous objections raised by others who were either uninvolved in the task force or who were facing language issues with their own clients. They didn’t realize that many of their ideas and suggestions had been previously tried or considered in other parts of the company. Unfortunately, we couldn’t involve each and every person in the task force, nor could we continue to be paralyzed by not making decisions.

Ultimately, it required presentation upon presentation by me with the help of others in which I explained the value of our decisions.  I explained the process (showing rigor), I outlined the benefits to both the organization and our clients, identified where we’d made progress, and in which languages, and I collected an array of client and consultant comments on good and great translations. I had to build a business case. As I made more presentations, the concerns among our leadership diminished. However, I’ve also learned that at any time, someone can come out of the corner who has not previously been involved and who can raise an issue to the extent that we have to revisit the conversation again.  My experience and my project successes have provided me with the confidence to continue to make the business case for our centralized translation processes.

I still make mistakes and am learning new things every day. I constantly have new ideas about how certain steps can be done better or more efficiently in the future. I value the vendor relationships, the reviewers with whom I work, and my organization. I constantly strive to help translation quality improve and help my vendors to learn and make the reviewers’ work easier – all balanced with my overall responsibility to protect and serve the organization and our IP.

Lonie Goldsberry is the Global Translations Manager for PDI Ninth House, which for over 40 years has specialized in Talent Management Consulting using pioneering principles in industrial organizational psychology and cutting-edge research. PDI Ninth House does business globally in over 18 locations outside the US. Lonie Goldsberry has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Iowa and a bachelor's degree with a triple major in Psychology, French and Literature. Lonie has been managing translations at PDI Ninth House for nearly ten years. Lonie has successfully created and implemented rigorous translation standards within the organization. PDI Ninth House’s Intellectual Property, due to service requirements, requires a high level of validity and reliability results. Lonie has been able to identify and implement the processes necessary to meet these requirements.

Do you have questions or comments related to this article or other translation management issues? Please feel fee to contact Lonie can at [email protected].