Translation Project Management Tips?
Thread poster: Maciek Drobka

Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:26
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Oct 26, 2009

Dzień dobry again,

I delivered my career's largest project on Friday. (Also mentioned in another forum thread today.)

I must admit: the project laid painfully bare my lack of project management experience. I especially failed in one key department, that of managing a consistently late translator. He made promises nearly every day, only to break them on the day that followed. I kept believing them, and became more and more frustrated and stressed as the deadline approached.

My wife, also a translator, had already told me 3 weeks earlier that I should fire the underperforming translator and find another, and doing so would have saved me a lot of trouble, but I didn't because, how foolish!, I still believed the translator's promises.

The project was finally delivered on time and to my quality requirements thanks to another translator on the team, who was able to take on much more work than originally promised, my hard-working proofreader, and my wife who helped with most of last-minute global revisions.

So in the end, no disaster happened. However, with a view to potential future projects, I would like you to share any tips and best practices for translation project management.

For example, how many times a team member has to fail before you fire them? How unpleasant can you get with disciplining failing team members? Etc.

Also, if you can share any web resources/articles on translation project management, that would be great.

Thank you.

Maciek


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Caryl Swift  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:26
Polish to English
+ ...
Where did you find this translator? Oct 26, 2009

Witam!

What a horrible experience

First of all, I know people are always very vehement on the fora when it comes to late delivery. And I know it's one of the cardinal sins. And I know I try to avoid it at all costs.

And I know that, on a few and, thank all the stars, very rare occasions, sudden technical doom has intervened. And I also know that a recent bereavement in my close family played absolute havoc with my work rhythms for quite some time.

And I know that, when things look very grim, one should contact the client and come clean - and either rearrange the deadlines or recommend a trusted colleague or two to pick up the job.

What I'm trying to say is that, even with the most professional of approaches, and even with the best will in the world, things can go wrong. And that sometimes it may be a problem which simply can't be solved within the space of a relatively short time.

All of that preamble is simply to ask if your consistently late translator may have had some such problem. Not that it excuses his behaviour, of course, because he should have been honest. But still, I wondered if that might have been the case?

If it wasn't, then can I ask where you found him? Is he, for example, a member of this, or any other major, web-based, translator community?

Pozdrawiam!
Caryl

Edited for faulty punctuation

[Edited at 2009-10-26 20:06 GMT]


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Marek Daroszewski (MrMarDar)  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:26
English to Polish
+ ...
You might not like it, but you've asked for it Oct 26, 2009

To me it seems your wife is a better manager than you are. No offence intended, just a statement of fact.

Firstly, forgive me, but THREE weeks is an awful lot of time to realize that somebody misses deadlines. Regardless whether this is due to family problems (God forbid!) or old customers flooding new jobs (God willing!). Nobody is irreplaceable. This applies to having a house painted, car repaired, lawn mowed,... you name it. Somebody else can do it!

Secondly, negotiate the deadline. Usually, if you need to submit something by end of business on Friday, it can wait until Monday. Tell the customer you have a third party problem, be honest, and at least TRY. After all, the customer is also a human being

Thirdly, think of all the hours you spent on Proz.com answering questions in the last 3 weeks, just to get a point here and a few more there. This time you managed to deliver Next time you might not Focus yourself better and don't let others distract you

And, reiterating myself, in the future consider letting your wife manage the project while you merely do the translations. It seems she has a knack for it, possibly by being less personal and more business oriented.

All the best,
Marek


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Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:26
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Caryl Oct 26, 2009

Caryl Swift wrote:


All of that preamble is simply to ask if your consistently late translator may have had some such problem. Not that it excuses his behaviour, of course, because he should have been honest. But still, I wondered if that might have been the case?

If it wasn't, then can I ask where you found him? Is he, for example, a member of this, or any other major, web-based, translator community?

Pozdrawiam!
Caryl

[/quote]

The problem, Caryl, is that he never told me even if I asked. I asked him directly twice, perhaps three times, what the problem was, as there clearly was a problem. And all he answered was that I had no reason to worry, and that he would certainly make the deadline. That was part of the frustration to me, his constantly communicating one thing and doing another.

And yes, I found him here. I had always respected him for his experience. In fact, I still highly regard him for his experience in the field. I've commented on other departments enough already.

Maciek


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Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:26
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Marek Oct 26, 2009

Marek Daroszewski (MrMarDar) wrote:

To me it seems your wife is a better manager than you are. No offence intended, just a statement of fact.


Secondly, negotiate the deadline. Usually, if you need to submit something by end of business on Friday, it can wait until Monday. Tell the customer you have a third party problem, be honest, and at least TRY. After all, the customer is also a human being

Thirdly, think of all the hours you spent on Proz.com answering questions in the last 3 weeks, just to get a point here and a few more there. This time you managed to deliver Next time you might not Focus yourself better and don't let others distract you

[/quote]

Thanks for the tip about my wife managing my translation projects. Never occurred to me, but sounds like an idea worth a serious thought in the future!

Secondly, deadlines are a sanctity with me. Unless it means hurting somebody, I will do what it takes to meet a deadline. Call it an obsession, but that's not negotiable.

And thirdly, I understand you are not a heavy KudoZ user nowadays, so it may have escaped your attention that I am no longer a KudoZ point grabber. As 95% of my revenue comes from clients I have met through Proz.com, I cannot afford quitting the KudoZ system altogether, but I now only answer questions that I know how to answer instantly or nearly instantly, without much research.
Besides, the way my mind works, I need a quick break every now and then. My hat off to you if you can keep toiling on without the shortest break.

Maciek


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Marek Daroszewski (MrMarDar)  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:26
English to Polish
+ ...
missing my point... Oct 27, 2009

Maciek Drobka wrote:
Secondly, deadlines are a sanctity with me....

I never said miss the deadline - negotiate it. I can see a difference. People often give a deadline because they expect others to work to a deadline. I lived and learned that sometimes it is better to talk to somebody about a deadine, than to watch the sun rise... three times in a row with not more than 2 hours sleep. But that was when I was young...so much younger than today.


you are not a heavy KudoZ user nowadays... quitting the Kudoz system...

Ehm, call it answerer. My point exactly! Difference in mindset. No offence, but see, you even say you use Kudoz - Kudoz are points. I use Proz. Proz are searching for answers and through fora. And the community. I do use Proz on a daily basis but don't waste time any more by posting answers openly. For my own reasons.


I need a quick break every now and then.

So do I! So does everybody. And then I look out of the window, hmm should say beyond Windows Go and get myself a coffee. Stretch my legs and arms. Your mind does not rest when you switch to Proz to give an answer. Actually, you are not taking a break doing that, although you think you do. Your are still using the same areas of your brain to do the same type of job. Call it psychology.

Do an experiment. Get a stopwatch and time yourself. I did that. Honestly. Time yourself for a week. I bet 10 to 25% of productive time is wasted by:
- receiving e-mail notification about a question
- switching to Proz to check the context
- Alt-Tabbing to Google to check the answer
- posting the answer
- receiving e-mail on competitive answer
- commenting
- swithing to Proz to see what's going on
- swithing to XYZ.com to check the news, etc.

Now, imagine a car company that has 25% higher productivity than competitors... Still not getting the point?

That's what I call being focused, being organized. Close all windows except for the ones that are required. Don't check mail for 1.5 hours. If you have e-mail sound notification - turn it off. Believe me, you don't need to answer every e-mail within 3 minutes. 1.5 hours intervals will do. Make a point to check your mail, answer IMPORTANT messages and get back to work within 10 minutes. Simply, plan your day - don't let random e-mails from WhoKnowsWhatsTheirName organize it for you.

Actually, why am I doing this? I'm giving you hints to work better, to be more efficient, I am helping you - my competitor - to take jobs from me...

All the best
M.


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Maciek Drobka  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:26
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Marek, 2 Oct 27, 2009

Marek, I tried to explain: With my current business strategy, I need KudoZ points to maintain a high rank in the Translator Directory to keep new clients coming.

It's no longer 'points for points' sake', as I reckon a third of the points I used to score will do the job for me. But points I must earn. I am sure there are a dozen more effective client acquisition strategies than earning points by answering fellow translators' questions on an industry-specific website. But for want of better ideas, I use this one, and have been very happy so far.

I've just checked: I have answered an average of 4-5 questions per day in the past ten days. To me, investing (or perhaps you'll call it wasting) 20-25 mins a day (and yes, breaking my workflow unconditionally in the 4-5 cases per day) is a price I am ready to pay for implementing a business strategy that works the way it was designed.

But I must agree that these are not really mental breaks from work -- they belong in the same 'mental pool of activity'.

Also, I see answering important e-mails promptly rather than at longer time intervals as part of my competitive advantage. Some clients comment how happy they are with my prompt communication. This is enough proof for me that the line I've taken is right. I am sure most of them would survive with longer intervals, but if their perception is different, I will tune in to the perception to keep them happy.

Best,
Maciek


[Edited at 2009-10-27 11:17 GMT]


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 00:26
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
If we may get back to Project Management per se Oct 27, 2009

Project management, to me, is about talent management. I like to test people on smaller projects before using them on huge ones. I've blacklisted a few over the years because of quality issues - you can guess how I glad I was that it was only a small project.

Large projects suffer most from a sin many of us could admit to (I certainly can): procrastination. When I have a two-day job, I might squeeze it all into the second day, for any number of reasons. I know it's physically doable. I've done 4-day jobs in one day as well. It burns you out, sure... but procrastination is a tough little habit to shake.

On large projects, however, I cannot afford to give in to procrastination. This is especially true when I'm managing people, not doing it all on my own. Every collaborator must be kept in check on a regular basis - including myself! If you're not making the schedule, add another person, put other commitments on hold, renegotiate the deadline - just don't think everything will sort itself out in the end. It never does. Even if your collaborators can go an extra mile for you if need be, they won't do it on their own - you still need to ask them, and the sooner the better.

Project management takes a lot of personal responsibility, people skills and making the right choices. Don't despair, learn from your experiences and you'll be fine. Good luck next time!

[Edited at 2009-10-27 11:00 GMT]


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Monika Elisabeth Sieger  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:26
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Agree on early fixed deadlines Oct 27, 2009

I am working for an agency and we always agree in advance for deadlines which are to be met and we always will have a time frame which allows all sides to extend the set dates for some days or weeks and we are always dealing with each other in an open and friendly way.
However, if one of us in not finished on time there is always a penalty fee hanging over the respective person and even loosing the whole contract is a possibility we all agreed on. The result will then be non-payment in total.
If the reason for not meting the deadline is because of suddenly occuring difficulties in the translation process or is related to personal problems all of us are very keen to help out as much as possible on a helping-each-other basis.
This almost sounds like Communism or paradise, but it is the only possibility we can manage all our workload!

My suggestion would be from the legal point of view (I am a lawyer myself): Fire him and/or threaten with not paying him by setting up a penalty fee a lot higher than the payment both sides agreed for doing the translation! And important: DO NOT AGREE TO PAY HIM FOR THE PARTS HE/SHE ALREADY HAS TRANSLATED. THIS WILL MAKE HIM NOT WORK EITHER!
But this agreement you only can make in advance.
And threaten him to make his inability known in the relevant translator cafes and circles! AND: Give no references at all in his favour! This makes him working as fast as a racing car.
There are people out there who do not co-operate in any other way!


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