Why do customer's deadlines slip so often?
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:01
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
May 15, 2008

I feel this issue (or is it a problem) has been discussed too little.
What I mean is the following situation:

Its nice if a customer tells us in advance of upcoming work:

"Next week Wednesday we will send you a file for translation. Please view the draft version attached, but do not start translation until we send you the final version. We need the translation the following Monday. Are you available for this job?"

Maybe on Tuesday you get the message:

"Sorry, the final version will be ready only on Friday. Do you think you can deliver the translation on time?"

In other cases the second message does not come at all, instead the week comes to an end and you hear nothing from the customer. Then after a few weeks they send the final version:

"Here is the text you promised to translate. It is really urgent, we need it tomorrow noon."

Needless to say, that the final version was not final at all. After you have sent in the translation, the next day they send you a new version with minor changes. Probably the boss of the person in charge had finally come around to look at the stuff and had to put in his changes, or it was the bosses boss or whoever.

I just wonder what goes on in these businesses? Why are they not able to adhere to their own deadlines?




Wolfgang Jörissen  Identity Verified
Dutch to German
+ ...
Charge extra May 15, 2008

Not the faintest idea of what is going on behind the scenes, but...

the more they make me rush, the more it will cost them. And that is one good thing about this situation: when it boils down to a real rush job, they mostly accept any surcharge you apply.


Doron Greenspan MITI  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:01
Member (2005)
English to Hebrew
+ ...
They're also humans... May 15, 2008

I'm sure that on the other side of the phone line (or email) sits someone who, like yourself, wished that times and dates were strictly adhered to, that his/her boss wouldn't change his/her mind every few hours, that the client would send that *(%$@# file when they promised they did, that the translator whose job you're supposed to edit get a move on, and so on.

In my country, one is happy just to receive a job with enough reasonable deadline to spare, not to mention an 'early warning' such as you describe. This is the reason I prefer working with foreign agencies - at least they do sometimes give an 'early warning', even if they don't stick to it precisely...

This was meant to put it in perspective, not to solve anything...

Give-me-enough-early-warning-whatever-happens Doron

[Edited at 2008-05-15 11:02]


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:01
German to English
Corporate chaos May 15, 2008


We only work for direct clients, mainly DAX corporates, and most deadlines are as elastic as a politician's election promisesicon_smile.gif

It's rare for texts to arrive when they're supposed to arrive, and when they do come, they're either twice as long or half the size of what was originally advised. Or on a completely different topic.

For projects such as annual and interim reports, we often get fancy project plans in lots of colours with lots of arrows and firm dates for the various workpackages. Very pretty, and binned straight away.

There are so many reasons for this, from dawdling board members and overworked project managers, through internal turf wars and communication breakdowns, down to forgetfulness and sheer incompetence. In very many cases, the people who are responsible for arranging the translations have little or no influence on what happens elsewhere in the organisation.

What it means is that the translation providers have to take an extremely flexible approach to project management. And if they're largely using freelance translators, the pain and aggravation will simply be passed down the line.

Professional translation providers will warn their freelances of expected deadline slippages, but often you simply don't get any advance warning. Not satisfactory for anybody, I know, but there's precious little you can do about it.

There's little point in freelance translators trying to charge their own agency clients for deadline slippages or cancelled jobs, because it's rarely possible to pass on these charges to the ultimate client (in most cases, you'll be told to get lost).

End-client failure to adhere to deadlines and notified volumes is one of the most stressful parts of the translation business, but unfortunately in today's fast-moving, lean corporate world, there's not much we can do about it. It's become part of the translation industry profile, and - however much pain it costs us - we have to accept it in most cases, I'm afraid.



Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:01
Italian to English
+ ...
I only get it with one direct client May 15, 2008

He'll tell me "next week I'll be sending you another chapter to revise, it's super-urgent, I need it back straightaway." It normally takes me about a day to do one of these jobs, so I can't comfortably fit it into my existing workload. In any case, I know from experience that I never get it when he says anyway - normally I receive it about 6 weeks later, by which time it's mega-urgent and the publishers are hassling him. Then, when I send him the inevitable queries, he disappears for a few days before replying...

Anyway, I've had to educate him very firmly - no matter how urgent it is, I cannot make time for him at the last minute because I have a business to run. I'm not prepared to turn down other jobs to make room for his when I know he never sends it when he says he will, and I'm certainly not going to miss my deadlines on work I've already accepted before his job finally does come in.

[Edited at 2008-05-15 08:32]


Daniel Bird  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:01
German to English
Friday deadlines May 15, 2008

At risk of going off-topic, can anyone explain the benefit of the Friday 5pm deadline? There may be the odd percentage of clients/cases that will actually need a text over the weekend but this practice reflects poor planning I think, which in turn is most of the cause of the deadline slippage we're discussing here.


Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:01
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
The Friday deadline May 15, 2008

Daniel Bird wrote:

At risk of going off-topic, can anyone explain the benefit of the Friday 5pm deadline? There may be the odd percentage of clients/cases that will actually need a text over the weekend but this practice reflects poor planning I think, which in turn is most of the cause of the deadline slippage we're discussing here.

Happens to me all the time - especially just before a bank holiday weekend. Those top execs just love mulling over a complex financial report on holiday weekends, don't they, doubtless with a G & T or Cuba Libre in the other hand ...


RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:01
German to English
Lot of weekend work May 15, 2008

Daniel Bird wrote: At risk of going off-topic, can anyone explain the benefit of the Friday 5pm deadline? There may be the odd percentage of clients/cases that will actually need a text over the weekend but this practice reflects poor planning I think, which in turn is most of the cause of the deadline slippage we're discussing here.

A surprising amount of work is being done over weekends, now, and it happens quite frequently that a text we've delivered for COB Friday comes back with comments or questions on Monday. Equally, it happens that the text doesn't come back for another three weeks because the individual concerned has gone on holiday.

I think that a lot more people at the corporates and in the financial services industry are working 6 or 7 day weeks now, and they often do indeed look through translations at the weekend. During the reporting season, of course, everybody's working 24x7 anyway, and weekends simply don't exist.

OTOH, I also think there's a certain degree of institutionalised thinking that goes on, one result of which is a fixed mindset which thinks that translation deadlines such as "5 pm on Friday" are the proper way to do things. My experience is that it's always worth asking the client if they really mean 5 pm on Friday - though of course we don't want to give clients the idea that we're happy to work over the weekend...

But no translator should behave like the freelance (in the US) who didn't deliver by the Friday 5 pm deadline and couldn't be contacted by phone, fax, or e-mail, with the result that the text had to be translated over the weekend (we're talking about 30 hours of work here) to get it to the end-client by Monday 9 am. And then the freelance sent in the translation at 8.30 on Monday morning with a note to the effect that because Friday 5 pm deadlines actually mean Monday morning, she'd gone to visit her sister for the weekend. It's so easy to hate translators...



Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:01
English to Spanish
... May 15, 2008

I rarely propose a deadline for delivering a translation until I have the document to translate in my hands (so to speak) and have verified that it is not corrupted, as well as skimmed it, unless we're talking about a long-time & trusted customer.

These customers (the "long-time & trusted" group) are very considerate and respect all deadlines: theirs as well as mine. I have only had one incident with one of them when they sentd me the files to be translated 24 hours later that agreed (I don't ask for the documents beforehand because they are all prettty much the same). They sent them along with a message that said something like: "We apologize for this setback and understant it may cause you trouble and disrupt your schedule. Please let us know if you will need a deadline extension and when you can have them ready".

On the odd ocassion that a customer (one that I don't know very well to that date) sends me a translation with a "fixed" deadline and promises to send me the document within XX timeframe, this is what I do:

1) If I was to receive the document at or before 12pm, I can accept a delay on their part of up to 5 hours (I usually "close shop" at 6-7 pm, so anything later than that means I probably won't get anything done on the document that day).

2) If I was to receive the document after 12pm. and the delay in sending me the document surpasses 5 hours or I have not received it by 5 pm, I tell them that the delivery deadline will have to be moved, given that due to their delay I have lost 1/2 a working day and that is a big setback to my working schedule, with which I am extremely organized.

It might sound really unflexible, but let's be honest:

What if WE were the ones who handed in the translation 1/2 day later than agreed???

Responsability is a two-way street, and agreements should be met by all parties involved. Personally, I think that frequent delays in sending the documents for translation shows sloppiness on their part, as well as blatant disrespect for my work**.


** Disrespect for our work, I believe, is another reason why some clients feel no urge to respect THEIR deadlines: I have found that many otherwise educated people and company bigshots believe that translating is little more that having a monster dictionary and thus can be done in a heartbet.

[Edited at 2008-05-15 15:50]


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:01
English to French
+ ...
Indeed, they are human - and so am I May 15, 2008

Sure, they are only human - and they may be under pressure by their own client. It's understandable. But if they expect understanding from the translator, then it is only normal for the translator to expect the same from them.

Managing projects is what an agency takes the cut for. This IS, after all, a project management issue. If the change in deadline was caused by the end client, it should be taken up with them - not with the translator. A translator is supposed to translate, and although it is normal that we look out for our clients' and their clients' interests, in order to serve them well and add value to our services, we are not supposed to be involved in project management. In project management, translators and their work are managed - not the other way around. Otherwise, why don't the agencies simply put us in direct touch with their clients and let us work directly with them? Of course, in such cases, there wouldn't be a reason anymore to make a cut...

Also, let's not forget that cutting deadlines at the last minute can cause quality issues. Now, what if the translation is of worse quality than it would have been? Who will be blamed? And even if nobody blames the translator, there still IS a quality issue. I wouldn't feel comfortable delivering substandard work and signing my name on it, even if all parties admit that it wasn't my fault. I want to serve my clients well - I sell them a quality service and they are paying me for it. If I don't deliver that quality service, my conscience wouldn't be clean...

The other problem I have with this touches upon loyalty. I am loyal to my clients - and I expect this to be reciprocal. But I am equally loyal to ALL my clients. How can I deliver a quality translation on time to my other client, who gave me a smooth deadline and stuck by it, when I have this client who is basically trying to cut in line ahead of my other client? I don't see why my other client, who manages things well, should suffer from this. For that matter, I don't see why I should suffer from this. Such deadline issues tend to keep me up late at night, working 14 hours straight, and because of this, I work more slowly. Past the first six hours of translation, the brain slows down considerably, which means more errors and omissions. This, in turn, makes the reviewing stage longer because there are more errors to deal with and more corrections to be made. So, I end up working longer hours than I originally would have - still for the same rate.

To answer Heinrich's question, I find this deadline tweaking chaos is unprofessional. However, I somehow feel that if there are so many agencies mismanaging work in this way, the translator community is to blame as well. After all, seeing the deadlines posted on the job board and the number of quotes, how many of us can honestly say that we do not accept unreasonable deadlines? In a sense, translators are conditioning agencies to mishandle deadlines.

This has happened to me before, and I always negotiated until we came to a satisfactory agreement. You don't HAVE TO accept short deadlines and revised deadlines. Besides, when the deadline is so tight, the agency has no time left to find someone else, so you basically have the upper hand. You can politely tell them "Either it happens according to my terms or it ain't happening." Trust me, most agencies are so stressed out about the issue by the time they discuss it with you, they will accept.

P.S.: When I quote a price for a job, I always add a small terms and conditions section (only a few sentences) to my quote. It basically says that the rate and deadline offered are valid ONLY for the agreed upon job, and that if parameters change, the quote isn't valid anymore and it will need to be renegotiated. I also add a deadline to reply to my quote. That is, if the client accepts my quote, they should reply within a certain timeframe (generally 24 hours, unless the work is urgent) or else the quote is not valid. Making things clear right from the start can help avoid unpleasant surprises.

[Edited at 2008-05-15 16:21]


Vito Smolej
Local time: 12:01
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
This thread deserves a place is the ProZ' Hall of Fame May 16, 2008

Thanks to everybody.


Alex Eames
Local time: 11:01
English to Polish
+ ...
Artificial deadlines May 16, 2008

Very often I find that a document is requested with an unrealistic deadline because people simply don't have a clue what's involved. They will spend weeks perfecting a document and then because they've done all the "creative work" it should be possible to translate it perfectly overnight - even though it's 20 pages.

Also, translation is often handled by secretaries, who call agencies. The secretary is told by the boss "I want this by end of business on Friday" so she asks for it by Friday. The boss doesn't really need it by Friday. He needs it by the following Wednesday when he is going to make a trip to the plant in Mongolia. But he says Friday because he is used to being let down and "heck they can do it, they charge me a fortune anyway".

He thinks that if it slips a day or two it will still be in his hands by Tuesday.

So he says Friday. But in reality he probably gets an inferior product because...

* the best person for the job rejected the project because of the schedule
* the person who did do it got stressed and made a mess of it

Now if the bosses could be educated to understand the process better and give a real deadline to their secretaries, the world would be a better place.

Alex Eames
helping translators do better business


Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:01
French to English
Contractual obligation May 17, 2008

Robin has already implied it, but I feel a key point, when it comes to production of source documents by the end customer, is that whoever is responsible for producing it is rarely under a contractual or any other obligation to do so by a given time (certain financial reporting obligations excepted).

Certainly from my own experience in IT, I can say that producing documents is pretty low down the list of priorities. You may have the best of intentions of finishing a user guide by next Weds, but if something else comes up.... you'll do that instead. And something else WILL come upicon_smile.gif Which is why documents are never ready when people say they will be.
Actually, come to think of it, anywhere I was ever employed, pretty much nothing was ever ready when it was supposed to be....
'Tis the way of the working world (to an extent - I know SLAs and other internal contractual arrangements are actually tightening up this shoddy and pitiful state of affairs!).

I am sometimes asked to quote on draft versions of documents expected at some future date. In these cases, I never give an actual absolute delivery date (by which I mean the X of month M). I always give a deadline that says delivery will be X days after acceptance of the quote produced on the basis of the final document. I usually include in the covering email some explanation of how it is arrived at (e.g. N words per day) so they can, if they so wish, actually pretty much determine in advance when they can expect it back, factoring in quote approval time etc.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:01
English to French
+ ...
Project management, yet again May 17, 2008

Alex's post takes the cake. I think it is mainly about client education. I think this is very important - but as I said, by accepting those tight deadlines, most of us are only conditioning clients to believe that any deadline will do. If we didn't accept unrealistic deadlines and would give an explanation on the reasons behind that, clients would eventually be more understanding and they would plan their projects better. That's what I mean by client education.

(May I add that client education is not only about explaining things? Many clients will listen - and then forget. Client education is much more about conditioning. If you refuse a deadline and explain why you refused it, the client will be much more inclined to listen to what you say - and they will remember what happened the last time, and plan projects accordingly.)

As for the artificial deadlines brought up by Charlie, I agree that in many cases, that is precisely the culprit. However, it is possible to let people use that approach without suffering from it ourselves. By simply asking the client to only tell us about jobs when they are absolutely sure that the document will be available on X date, and not to contact us before that, we already have a partial solution. Charlie's quoting scheme would complete that solution. As he says, dates need to be explicitly mentioned in quotes and outlining the duration of our own tasks is a clear indication that we cannot go any faster than X, even if our client would want us to.

Thanks, guys!


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