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By-passing PM to contact other project collaborators?
Thread poster: Mikhail Kropotov

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 21:50
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Oct 7, 2008

I've had to by-pass my PM to reach a collaborator on an ongoing project and ran into some problems. I would like to hear your comments on the ethics of the situation.

I am part of an ongoing translation project from English into Russian which uses an online bidding system for distributing jobs to vendors. Vendors receive projects for translation or editing via that system, without knowing each other's identities. There is never any direct communication.

Naturally, linguistic & consistency-related issues arise from time to time. Unfortunately, the PM doesn't understand Russian and doesn't seem to be effective at addressing the issues that regularly come up.

The end client has Russian managers who allegedly review Russian translations before they are published on their websites and/or sent out to their individual customers. Judging by the end result, they are either not very competent or don't care about quality that much. Glaring, embarrassing errors on their main website have been brought to their attention, and months later they are still there. I get the idea they don't give a rat's behind about it all, as long as the business brings in money. But, I digress.

Recently, an online translation tool/server was deployed on the project. It has probably helped make our work more consistent. However, whenever an incorrect translation is stored in it, it seems to get stuck there forever and will, in all likelihood, get replicated in future translations. Linguistic issues still arise, too (due to indirect communication).

By pure chance, last night I noticed that user log-ins in the online TM are actually our e-mail addresses. In fact, there was only one e-mail there other than my own. Hoping to streamline teamwork through some direct communication, I e-mailed this person, asking them to confirm they actually worked on the same project and whether they would be willing to discuss some matters related to our work.

The person replied this morning and was quite courteous, confirming that he was involved in the project. He inquired where I got his e-mail and what I wanted to discuss with him.

I told him where I got his e-mail (he could do the same if he wanted to) and outlined the sort of issues we've been having. I was hoping we could just make a quick discussion of it and come up with some consensus/conventions/terminology/common approach to use in our future collaboration.

The person immediately replied that these issues must be brought up before the PM, and that this agency's 'rules' prevented him from engaging in any discussion with me.

Needless to say, I did not anticipate this kind of response. I reviewed the agency's terms and conditions, which I signed when I began working for them, but found none of the rules he talked about.

A little while later, I received an e-mail from the PM asking me always to direct any issues to him. He explained that they've had some problems with this sort of thing in the past (nothing to do with me personally, the PM assured me).

All in all, the results are pitiful. The quality and collaboration issues I've been trying to raise will not go away, but neither will they be handled properly. I accomplished nothing, probably alienated my collaborator by breaking some unwritten "rules of the game" to which he refers, and got in moderate trouble with the PM.

What do you make of it?

P.S. Hopefully I picked the right forum for this thread. Moderators are welcome to move it.


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megane_wang  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
Many things to be considered... Oct 7, 2008

Hi Mikhail,

As a PM myself (not in translation, but PM in any case), I can tell you that when you set rules is not for hobby, but usually for some reason.

Regarding the previous problems you had
----------------------------------------------------
My questions here are:

- Did you ever point out those linguistic / consistency problems?

- Did you ever tell the PM that the customer was publishing rubbish on their site? With specific examples?

- Did you ever tell the PM that there are wrong entries in the on-line tool that tend to perpetuate?

I think you maybe did but I'm not sure. Of course, if you did not, that would have been an error, and contacting anyone else to address those issues, another one.

Regarding contacting that colleague
---------------------------------------------

For sure, using the e-mail of anyone else without consent is a bad idea, as a principle. It does not matter if rules are written or not. That's personal information; if you find it "by accident" you'd better act as if you had not seen it.

If you really thought that contacting your colleague was going to be useful, you should better have contacted the PM and asked him to allow you to contact the other linguists. That way, the PM would have known what was going on. He could have said "no", but in that case you would have known that the PM does not care (in an extreme case, you can better go and think about a new client).

Look: PMs are not perfect and cannot be everywhere, but somehow everyone expects them do so. Their boss, the customer, the X translators, the Y proofreaders, the accounting team, the DPT guys, the customer assistant, who always states that the deadline is N days before you thought, the... Then, let's see how we people are: You may think you are a nice an constructive person; try to add a "disagree" to any questinon in the Kudoz and... wow! you'll find out that many people are not. Now try to add a couple of translators with a couple of editors and then add that in other languages... you'll soon start to get tired of mutual complaints and silly arguments. Sometimes the best way to deal with all these interests is to isolate them so that they and their individual egos can work comfortably. Many PM use this approach, particularly when they deal with people who, under other conditions, would compete fiercely.

Breaking the rules without asking the PM first is, therefore, almost the worst you can do to a PM. You can have a bad day and make a minor mistake; even a big one if you spot it in time. But if you do something that the PM is supposed to be informed about without the PM's consent can be a real nightmare for a PM. More to it: what else will you be doing without consent?

I hope this helps you to try to understand "the other side". If I were the PM I also would have caused "moderate trouble" to you

I hope you'll find a solution to the whole puzzle.

Ruth @ MW


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:50
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Wouldn't have done it Oct 7, 2008

Honestly, to me your relationship is with the PM or company hiring your services. Full stop.

It is our duty to try to explain and convince PMs about the need to improve something in the process and/or to discuss issues with other linguists working in the same project, but that's all we can do. Contacting other people and discussing the project damages privacy in my opinion, although I completely understand your motives!


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sarandor  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:50
English to Russian
+ ...
The "other" translator is the one who was acting unethically... Oct 7, 2008

Or quite low... In my opinion, the other linguist, after telling you that s/he is not willing to discuss those issues without the PM consent, should've stopped rights there and not go behind your back and complain to the PM.

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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 21:50
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Clarification Oct 7, 2008

Hello Ruth,

- Did you ever point out those linguistic / consistency problems?
Yes, on a job-by-job basis. The PM thanked me for reporting them.

- Did you ever tell the PM that the customer was publishing rubbish on their site? With specific examples?
Yes. I did that as soon as I joined the project (this spring), when a good amount of their Russian material had already been published. He was not interested in learning of any specific examples. He said the end client's managers would take care of that. Well, they haven't.

- Did you ever tell the PM that there are wrong entries in the on-line tool that tend to perpetuate?
Sure. He asked me to add the correct term to the (offline) glossary, seemingly ignoring the effect on the online TM.

I cannot go so far as to claim that any of these issues are NOT communicated to other collaborator(s) in my pair. Somehow I don't think they are. Sometimes the PM doesn't reply to my feedback for weeks... He's responsive in other ways, usually. I just don't seem to carry a lot of weight with him, probably because I'm not their main vendor for Russian.

[Edited at 2008-10-07 13:09]


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Jabberwock  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:50
Member (2004)
English to Polish
NDA? Oct 7, 2008

Did the agency terms and conditions contain non-disclosure clause? If they did, it probably stated that you should not reveal to anyone the fact that you are working for this specific agency on this specific project. In that case, contacting the colleague means breaking that agreement...

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Mark Berelekhis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:50
Member (2007)
Russian to English
+ ...
Wouldn't have done it either Oct 7, 2008

Although I completely understand where you're coming from, having had similar frustrating experienced myself. Policy is policy, it's just that the better agencies out there find ways to facilitate collaboration, instead of impeding it.

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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:50
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Phishing? Oct 7, 2008

voyager wrote:

Or quite low... In my opinion, the other linguist, after telling you that s/he is not willing to discuss those issues without the PM consent, should've stopped rights there and not go behind your back and complain to the PM.


I don't quite agree with this one. Quite clearly, the PM had not informed the other linguist about who was collaborating on the project. I don't think the other linguist was at all out of line informing the PM that someone was attempting to find out information about the project. Without the PM, the linguist has no way of verifying that Mr. Kropotov is indeed working on the project.


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sarandor  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:50
English to Russian
+ ...
Office politics, freelance translator version Oct 8, 2008

Paul Merriam wrote:
Without the PM, the linguist has no way of verifying that Mr. Kropotov is indeed working on the project.


It is possible that other linguist's motive was as innocent as you think it was, but I doubt it. I might be wrong, but it just reminded me my life in the cubicle jungle.


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megane_wang  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
Indeed, I thought so Oct 8, 2008

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

Hello Ruth,

- Did you ever point out those linguistic / consistency problems?
Yes, on a job-by-job basis. The PM thanked me for reporting them.

- Did you ever tell the PM that the customer was publishing rubbish on their site? With specific examples?
Yes. I did that as soon as I joined the project (this spring), when a good amount of their Russian material had already been published. He was not interested in learning of any specific examples. He said the end client's managers would take care of that. Well, they haven't.

- Did you ever tell the PM that there are wrong entries in the on-line tool that tend to perpetuate?
Sure. He asked me to add the correct term to the (offline) glossary, seemingly ignoring the effect on the online TM.

I cannot go so far as to claim that any of these issues are NOT communicated to other collaborator(s) in my pair. Somehow I don't think they are. Sometimes the PM doesn't reply to my feedback for weeks... He's responsive in other ways, usually. I just don't seem to carry a lot of weight with him, probably because I'm not their main vendor for Russian.


I thought you did so.

As far as you say about your weight in the project, that can be, Mikhail, but the rest does still apply. Applying an "overdrive" on an apparently-inefficient PM is sometimes tempting, but if you already set all the red flags around the project, that's enough. Try to keep in mind that the PM is responsible for everything within the project, including you improperly contacting a colleague without prior notice.

I understand you both (you and the PM) and, if you really feel badly about this way to do things, the best you can do is to look for a new customer who cares better about the project quality.

Best luck!

Ruth @ MW


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:50
French to English
Distribution list Oct 8, 2008

If I were the PM, I would have set up a distribution list of the translators + me (PM) to discuss issues so that everyone always knows everything.

If, in the absence of such a list, I had been the "other" person you contacted, then rather than run off to the PM crying like a baby, I would have emailed the PM & you, together, in the same email, saying that it would probably be a good idea to set up a proper list (blah blah as above).

If I were you, then I probably would not have contacted any one individual in isolation; however, if I had managed to find a few of the team addresses, then it's possible I would have emailed them all at once + PM to suggest setting up a list etc. Emailing the PM to strongly suggest a list of this type would have been the way forward, I think.

On the other hand, sometimes we just have to accept that these collaborative projects are often less than perfect, especially if a) the end-client doesn't care and b) the set-up is such that the first translation of a term is the one used for ever, no matter what, and just go with the flow or drop out.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:50
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
The PM gave you the other person's identity Oct 8, 2008

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:
By pure chance, last night I noticed that user log-ins in the online TM are actually our e-mail addresses. In fact, there was only one e-mail there other than my own. Hoping to streamline teamwork through some direct communication, I e-mailed this person...


Unless the NDA stated that you're not allowed to contact anyone except the PM, you did nothing wrong. The other person was part of the translation team, and the PM had (by way of the system) given you access to them and their identity. This would make that person part of the group of people not covered by the contact prohibition of the NDA (depending on the wording of the NDA, of course).

A little while later, I received an e-mail from the PM asking me always to direct any issues to him. He explained that they've had some problems with this sort of thing in the past (nothing to do with me personally, the PM assured me).


I'm glad the PM didn't accuse you of breach of NDA.

But I understand the PM's concerns, and I have worked in similar situations before, where all contact had to be via the PM and the PM would actuallly reword the mails before passing it on. In my experience, you can't have a meaningful discussion like that (it's like playing chess via snailmail).

I once had a PM freak out when he learnt that I had had contact with some of his other translators about issues very similar to a job he gave us... until I explained to him that us translators have had contact about such issues previously already, long before the PM or his job came into the picture. In this case, I suspected that the other translators were on the same job, but we didn't discuss that particular job -- we just discussed matters relating to it that we would have discussed anyway.

I accomplished nothing, probably alienated my collaborator by breaking some unwritten "rules of the game" to which he refers, and got in moderate trouble with the PM.


Don't fret about the colleague, but this is actually an opportunity to gain trust with the PM. People in power tend to appreciate certain mistakes admitted, and if you act in a way that boosts or acknowledges their position in your relationship, you may find that they end up trusting you more. It's called "social engineering". Don't abuse it, though -- it has a habit of backfiring.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:50
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
"Gelegenheit macht Diebe" Oct 8, 2008

Samuel Murray wrote:
Unless the NDA stated that you're not allowed to contact anyone except the PM, you did nothing wrong. The other person was part of the translation team, and the PM had (by way of the system) given you access to them and their identity.


"Gelegenheit macht Diebe", a long-present sign in the trams of some German cities. It means "Opportunity makes thieves". Even if it would have been easy to take the purse of some old lady, I never did it or felt like it. In this case, I don't agree that the accidental access to other people's contact details gives you the right to contact them...

(Edited to correct a typo).

[Edited at 2008-10-08 09:55]


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 20:50
French to Dutch
+ ...
Sorry but I don't agree Oct 8, 2008

Samuel Murray wrote:

Unless the NDA stated that you're not allowed to contact anyone except the PM, you did nothing wrong. The other person was part of the translation team, and the PM had (by way of the system) given you access to them and their identity. This would make that person part of the group of people not covered by the contact prohibition of the NDA (depending on the wording of the NDA, of course).


Lots of agencies (most?) don't want external translators to contact other translators for the reason that this always leads to price discussions ("he/she gets more than I for the same work"). Even if this leads to loss of quality (of course they are aware of this side effect). I worked inhouse in an agency where we had specifically the instruction NOT to team up translators, for this reason. In this case, there was no team, the agency didn't intend to set up a team, didn't ask you to contact the other translator and you have to respect this decision, if not there is a breach of confidentiality. Now, how do you want the agency have confidence in you if you did some social engineering? Are you now going to do the same thing with their clients? The translator has to translate the texts the outsourcer gives to him and with the instructions of the outsourcer, not to investigate about their circumstances or the reasons for the way the agency handles its project management. I think you bypassed the external translator's role.

[Modifié le 2008-10-08 10:09]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:50
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Not accidental access Oct 8, 2008

Tomás Cano Binder wrote:
In this case, I don't agree that the accidental access to other people's contact details gives you the right to contact them...


I agree with you, but this does not appear to me like a case of accidental access.

This is not a case where the PM slipped up and accidently did something that revealed an address in a way that would not normally be used to reveal addresses deliberately.

See, the client uses a custom designed translation portal. It can be assumed that whatever is possible with the system (using "normal" access methods and without overdue fishing), is specifically permitted. If the client did not want translators to know each other or of each other, translators' login names would not have been their mail addresses and/or translators would not have been permitted to see each others' login names and/or e-mail addresses.


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