As in so many other domains, in translation, project management tools and processes are perfectly applicable.
We’ve seen it hundreds of times. In movies, for instance. In a stressful situation, people tend to look up to someone who seems fit to be put in charge, and ask “What’s the plan?” As in so many other domains, in translation, people tend to work better when someone prepares, plans and controls the many variables associated with their job.
A couple of years ago, I decided to become a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI). While undergoing the mandatory training before taking the exam, the same question frequently came up in conversation with my classmates, who all came from different industries: “what has project management got to do with translation?” Later on, it became quite clear to them (and to me) how complex a translation project could be and how project management tools and processes are perfectly applicable. It would take us an endless amount of time to go through each and every aspect of the matter, so I decided to extract some interesting guidelines that perhaps aren’t the first to spring to mind when we think about managing a project and that can so easily be forgotten, to disastrous effect.
In brief, the methodology endorsed by PMI, set out in the PMBOK guide (currently in its 6th edition), comprises a set of 49 well defined processes, which are divided into 5 groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing) and 10 knowledge areas that a project manager must master in order to conduct a project successfully. As you may have figured out by now, in this article I will be focusing on the ‘Planning’ part. Let’s get to it:
1– First things first: know where you’re going. Before starting any planning at all, it is of utmost importance to clearly define your scope: understand the client requirements and expectations, clearly agree on what the final product (deliverables) should be, have it all validated, and then you’re set to go.
2– Manage time. As abstract as this concept might seem, a large part of a projects manager’s day is spent managing others’ time. Once you know exactly what needs to be done, create a list of activities that need to be completed to achieve the final goal (translation, review, proofreading, QA, testing, etc.) and determine the sequence in which they need to be executed. You will probably have access to some tools to estimate the duration of each of these activities: from experience with analogous projects or perhaps by referring to established daily or hourly throughputs from your human resources department. Finally, set a realistic deadline, trying to find a balance between the best-case, worst-case and the most likely scenario. Et voilá! you have a schedule. Now you “just” need to closely monitor and control it to ensure it is strictly followed.
3– Speaking of worst-case scenarios, remember Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. One vital part of project planning is identifying risks and planning appropriate responses, just in case. Think of a contingency plan for an unexpected delay, for instance. Think about the probability of it happening and try to assess the impact on the project as a whole. While sometimes it might not be possible to simply avoid the risk, there might be a way of mitigating its impact, for instance by increasing the number of human resources involved, thereby reducing the impact of one of them suffering a delay.
4– I know what you’re thinking: won’t a larger number of resources involved make it more difficult to control and assure quality? That’s why planning quality management is also such an important part of every project. Define at an early stage exactly what the specific quality parameters that the final product should meet are and how/when to measure that quality. Once again, the clear definition of requirements and deliverables will play an important role here.
5– Finally, good communication and interpersonal skills are a plus for any project manager. With all the tools available nowadays, it seems like a waste of time to think about how you are going to communicate during a project. But just imagine a scenario where the team is spread across the world, in different time zones, with different cultures and technologies and different needs, and you’ll quickly think of one or two things that can go wrong. Basically, you need to clearly establish what needs to be communicated and how often. Selecting one single method or technology (phone, e-mail), setting some ground rules and planning the frequency (weekly video conference, daily e-mail) are some of the ways you can assure all communications run smoothly and avoid misunderstanding or omission of information.
I don’t think it is by chance that of the aforementioned project management processes, more than half are related to the planning stage of a project. I always think of the popular saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” which is a good illustration of how good preparation is key to success for many endeavours. So I truly believe that by implementing these (not so) simple tips, we can achieve a significant reduction in project setbacks and the associated consequences. To sum up, and at the risk of disappointing you by ending with something of a cliché, if you fail to prepare, you WILL indeed be preparing to fail.
Article published in The Elia Handbook for Smart PMs distributed to attendees of the ND Focus event, in Porto, September 2018