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Any PM's want to share your PM experience?
Thread poster: Robert Xiao

Robert Xiao
United States
Local time: 14:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
Jul 8, 2007

or the past 10 years I have only done translation work. A couple years ago I was talked into a PM position.

I was handling several projects at a time, dealing with translators and editors from around the world, and with some task to do every couple of hours -- Files from translator that need to go to editor; files from editor that need to go to graphic people, files from graphic people that need to go to client, questions that need to be answered, questions that need to be researched, backend admin chores, etc.

Long story short, I found myself working 5 minutes every hour or couple hours, spending all day (and all night too) to facilitate the projects, but only get 2 hours pay, according to allotted PM time.

Worst yet, this line of work is prong to errors. I was held responsible for emails that were not received, track changes that were not turned off, etc, even mistakes by practitioners just because I was the one facing clients.

I went back to translation after 6 months.

I will never do PM work again, but I am just very curious how other PM's make this work. Anyone want to shed some light on me? Thanks.


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Martin Wenzel
Germany
Local time: 23:09
English to German
+ ...
No, thank you Jul 8, 2007

Hi Robert, I have watched many project managers on their job while working as a translator in London.

Even though, some of them seem to have a jolly good time, loughing and joking most of the time, I would think it can be quite stressful, so keeping your smile all day may be crucial to perform well. And, it definitely isn't the right thing for somebody with poor soft skills, i.e. s.o. who doesn't enjoy working with people. Translators are often loners, though we all need people as Barbra Strisand claims (hope I spelled her name correctly).

Just imagine the impossible task of trying to keep everybody happy: Your employer, your clients, your translators...

There is always somebody who did something wrong and where a PM has to step in to keep things moving in the right direction.

I wouldn't ever want to do it, even if it paid three times as much as I am earning as a translator, simply because I don't want my hair to go grey any faster...


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megane_wang  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
You can learn it but, first of all, you have to be done for it... Jul 8, 2007


And, it definitely isn't the right thing for somebody with poor soft skills, i.e. s.o. who doesn't enjoy working with people.
...
Just imagine the impossible task of trying to keep everybody happy: Your employer, your clients, your translators...
...
There is always somebody who did something wrong and where a PM has to step in to keep things moving in the right direction.
...


I have been PM in IT and communication projects for 10 years now (apart from my job as a translator), and managing any sort of project has little to do with laughing and joking. How you demonstrate your stress only depends on your character

Of course, since you need to communicate with people and keep them all motivated (customer, boss, people working for you), you need to keep in the right mood, no matter how stressed you feel

I think that the most important point is that you NEED to like it. And you need to take your time to LEARN it.

Some people go for it because they feel it's better paid. But many of them do not know how to manage the customer, how the manage the customer's expectations and pressure, how to manage their boss pressure to put more projects on their heads. Too often they forget they manage a team and the whole team is "on the same side" when things are not going properly. It's not the customer's business what you do to do your project. You cannot take your problems to anyone to just solve them. You are asked for solutions, and that's what you need to do the whole day long.

On top of that, income is not always higher. I have managed consultants and programmers who earned much more than me. And many of them would have never changed jobs with me, particularly when a customer comes on a sudden "brown-passing" intent, on Friday 17:59 PM, after the whole team has been working hard for the whole week and people are starting to turn off their PCs...

10 years ago I feared that possibility. But now I know I can handle that without being seriously hurt. And I like it!!

Ruth @ MW


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Sophie Dzhygir  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:09
Member (2007)
German to French
+ ...
No, thank you - bis Jul 8, 2007

Like Martin, I could watch PMs when I was working in-house, and some of them - who are friends - are still working as PMs. It's really a job full of stress. I was once offered to get "promoted" as a PM when one PM leaved. I refused because I know I don't like the job. I don't know if it's the same everywhere in the world (would be glad to know ) but here in France at least, within translation companies, it always sounds like becoming a PM is the natural evolution of a translator and all they are supposed to want to, and you even might be considered "starnge" if you say you don't want to become a PM. I do not find this natural at all, I think these are different jobs and I don't know why I should fell excited about changing job from something I love to something that bores me...

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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:09
German to French
+ ...
Both are stressful in a different day Jul 8, 2007

I have the feeling being a translator is physically stressful (like having to work for long hours on the same text - sometimes without even liking much the text after 10 pages and knowing that 40 more are coming).

Being a PM is sometimes emotionally very stressful because you have to make the best of sometimes opposite expectation and if something goes wrong, it is firing at you from both sides.

I however like being a PM BUT ( and I mean BUT)

- I am my own boss (and nobody can force me to take a job for which my feeling tells me the expectations are so high that something would go wrong (like because of budget, format or deadline or simply because I don't get on well will the working practice of my client). Nobody will ever tell me I have to serve this client whatever happens).

- I have somebody behind me that had been working with clients for years on a former jobs and knows what they actually want and how to deal with them and I am learning a lot each day.

- I have the same person acting on a fire-fighter when everything turns so bad that I could throw the computer out of the window on the minute and close the business. On these days he is there to remind me it is not always so bad, helps me to solve the problem or take over the problem with the translator/the client.

Under these conditions, I like being a PM and not having to translate over the night. As I said once, I would however never do it as an employee of an agency because there will always be somebody to tell me I have to be kind to a client because of the sake of it because concealing my opinion for the sake of marketing is definitely not my type.

[Edited at 2007-07-08 16:34]


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Robert Xiao
United States
Local time: 14:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
One specific issue I have Jul 8, 2007

Let me give one specific issue I have with the PM role.

Many countries in Asia works on Saturday, that means Friday evening in the US. When Asia starts work on their Monday, it's Sunday night in US. So my work week started Sunday afternoon and ends Friday late night.

So I had to camp out in front of my computer for this long work week that's made up of 5 minutes tasks here and there (recruit translators, assign files, receive files, upload files, etc.), that add up to be just a few hours. It was not worth my while.

I found out that I could make my PM pay in a mouth by translating for 3 straight days.

Do other PM's have the same issue? If you do, how do you guys handle that?


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 16:09
English to Russian
+ ...
Can't come up with the right title Jul 8, 2007

The job can be terrific with a number of mandatory initial conditions.
You must be a team leader and a challenger at heart.
You must be a people person.
Most important - you must have not just responsibilities but a true and complete control over the choice of translators and editors. If the agency can ensure it - no problem with working for them. In order to mitigate the stress you need to eliminate as many surprises as you possibly can. Believe it or not, sending jobs to right people takes away at least 60% of your stress. That's why it is good to make a sound decision regarding taking this job based on gained translation experience and a broad network of the language service providers actually known to you. People, people and people only make all the difference. The more of your connections are personal, the better. The best part is to have people on both sides of the ocean.

The right team of experienced people armed with clear instructions can do it all without you:-), your job is not to stand on their way with petty supervision, keep them happy by being available when they need you and ensure payments in time.

One thing I don't understand - are you some kind of a "remote" PM? What 2 hours are you talking about? If this is the case, you simply made a poor business choice - you can work from home but for a full salary plus overtime. This should be a staff position unless you accept it for 1 specific project, and even then you should negotiate better or expect a decent bonus, such as percentage of the profit based on the financial results, finder's fee for bringing in new invaluable team members etc.

I have a feeling that it is not the job per se but a ridiculous pay that makes you unhappy, provided that you are cut for this job regardless of the remuneration.

With my current connections I would not mind doing it again were I unable or unwilling to be an active translator/interpreter for any reason. Not for 2 hours a day pay though... I'd stick with an average salary and the percentage, that's how much confidence I have in my connections. It would be very hard for strangers to break in:-) but should they manage, I'll keep them happy, guaranteed:-). One more thing - I'd be looking for businesses with huge projects, not for some 25 200-word letters a day in 25 languages. This part might be unavoidable but certainly should not be prevailing.

Regards,
Irene


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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:09
German to French
+ ...
The way I work Jul 8, 2007

Robert Hsiao wrote:

Let me give one specific issue I have with the PM role.

Many countries in Asia works on Saturday, that means Friday evening in the US. When Asia starts work on their Monday, it's Sunday night in US. So my work week started Sunday afternoon and ends Friday late night.

So I had to camp out in front of my computer for this long work week that's made up of 5 minutes tasks here and there (recruit translators, assign files, receive files, upload files, etc.), that add up to be just a few hours. It was not worth my while.

I found out that I could make my PM pay in a mouth by translating for 3 straight days.

Do other PM's have the same issue? If you do, how do you guys handle that?


1. No stress - request for quotes are sent to many agencies at once.
I regroup the quotes and send them at once except if it is a regular client and I know that he wanted me (for instances requests for quotes with dear sirs and madams, can wait an hour, if they can't they wouldn't have given the time for a proper translation).
2. Translators are selected in advance in my spare time - when I write a quote, I have already an idea of the translators that may come into questions.
3. Optimize your time, this means you receive the files once. Since the translators are already pre-selected, I send them at once to all the preselected translators and come into action after a couple of hours if for some language the preselected translators for a specific language pair do not answer. When you have good translators, the occasional questions are not taking to much time.
4. Plan enough time for task management activities and for the translation.
Don't plan that the translation would start straight away after the job it is given or will come back 5 seconds after you get it back.

Through planning the time, allocating time for project management duties every couple of hours, you can for instance translate 1 hour, do 15 min e-mail and translate one hour again.

I am then able to translate part-time on a steady basis AND be a project manager so that I make money of both activities.


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Robert Xiao
United States
Local time: 14:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Agree that having good team will help Jul 8, 2007

I agree that having a good team of translators and editors I can count on can really make things smooth. For language pairs that we did large volume of work I was able to form a core group that I go to initially. But we also got a lot of rare pairs and for those it seemed impossible to have someone standing by.

Our firm had a "guideline" for PM budget. For every 1000 words we were allocated 1 hour of PM work. So this one hour is broken into 5 minutes for emailing contractors, 5 minutes for writing instructions, 5 for sending files, 5 for receiving files and sending to editor, etc.

Therefore, even though the project will last 3 days and I'm constantly minding, I get paid for just 1 hour of work.

The worst is when I get a job for 250 words; it takes the same amount of time to go thru the entire process, but now I get just 15 minutes of PM budget. Rather rediculous.... Dont' know if it is only my firm that has this policy.


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sokolniki  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:09
English to Russian
+ ...
You forgot to mention.. Jul 8, 2007

.. dealing with the owner/general manager of the translation agency. Oftentimes PMs are not allowed to share or even possess the info on the budget or offer rates to translators/editors which is a matter of trust by the boss, as I see it.

Couple of weeks ago I spent almost 3 hours on the phone/email with a PM to find out that she has no info on the budget/rates and there we went again. I was mad at the PM and sorry for her at the same time.


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 16:09
English to Russian
+ ...
This is not a policy Jul 9, 2007

This is a sweatshop.

Irene


[Edited at 2007-07-09 16:45]


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Robert Xiao
United States
Local time: 14:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Other PM's seem to be fine with it Jul 9, 2007

The funny thing was, I asked other PM's about this, and they didn't seem to have any problem with the policy. It was like I was the odd ball....

[修改时间: 2007-07-09 18:20]


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Martin Wenzel
Germany
Local time: 23:09
English to German
+ ...
Can PMs always find a translator? Jul 9, 2007

I know from my former agency I used to work for that they always accepted all jobs and then started thinking about who could do the translation...

What if they have promised a tight deadline and cannot find a translator because A is sick, B is having a baby, and C turns down the job because he feels he cannot do it [for whatever reason]...

Is there always somebody ready to chip in and help?


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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:09
German to French
+ ...
It is a matter of money and comon sense Jul 9, 2007

I always find a translator because I always check the amount of possible translators before giving a quote. Once I got a feeling it could be a bit tight for a translation of a rare pair, I ask the client if the same text was not already available in English and it was so it increased my chances of finding somebody qualified (indeed it was and we worked from English as source text instead of German).

For languages pair which are pretty common and where I already have 8-9 active translators, there is always somebody taking the job provided you are paying enough. Some of the translators are asking like that "hey, I could take it but I am already working on a translation, thus I would need x more days".
Then I ask the client if it could come into question to give a bit more time for the translation. Most of the time it is OK.

For language pairs where there are only 2-3 translators on my database, I ask the translators for availability before writing my quote. My quote is then delayed for half a day but some clients are not in a hurry.

If there are no translators in my database for the specific language combination, either I refer to another agency I trust or I tell the client frankly sorry I can't provide for this and i try to give him references to seek further.

[Edited at 2007-07-09 07:30]


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Robert Xiao
United States
Local time: 14:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
At my agency Jul 9, 2007

Martin Wenzel wrote:

I know from my former agency I used to work for that they always accepted all jobs and then started thinking about who could do the translation...

What if they have promised a tight deadline and cannot find a translator because A is sick, B is having a baby, and C turns down the job because he feels he cannot do it [for whatever reason]...

Is there always somebody ready to chip in and help?


At my agency, not only did we accept jobs before looking for translators, we have time-guidelines that we advertise to clients, namely 1 day per thousand words with a minimum of 2 days. So the clock starts ticking when the sales people commit to the job, even if the PM's might not see the job.

This was another design which I thought caused me to spend unpaid time in front of computer. I had to check all day long for new jobs so not to lose valuable time. Otherwise, if we can't meet the automatically promised time, guess who is to blame? The PM, which is yours truly....=(

Luckily I was always able to get the job done, but was frequently in a state of emergency. I remember once I had to translate from Korean to Norwegian; there was NO such transaltor on our database. So I ended up translating from Korean to English first then from English to Norwegian.

It was money-losing project for me. That was the 250 word project with a 15 min PM budget; I cumulatively spent at least 5 hours on it!


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