When a Project Manager Becomes a Bottleneck
March 16th, 2013, Roman Mironov
Although a translation project manager is not the one who does the actual job in the translation process, the errors he/she makes can become a major bottleneck, making it impossible to deliver high quality of translation or turning what was initially a lucrative project into something that takes money out of a translation agency’s pocket. Read this post to get a grasp on some of the critical pitfalls that await a PM:
- Sitting on a project without moving it forward. A new project comes in, but a PM is currently working on more urgent, “in the face” tasks and doesn’t have the time to plan it. As a result, the project sits for a day or two untouched. Since the PM is keeping everything in her head, her mind might trick her into believing there’s still enough time. But then she realizes the time’s running out. The translator and editor she wanted to engage for this project are already busy. She missed the chance to assemble the best team and give them ample time required to do a good job. Now she can only get the second best.
- Incorrect work priorities. With questions, requests, and new information coming from all directions, no wonder setting priorities is a challenge for a PM. She’s compelled to focus on what’s right in front of her instead of on what matters most. If it’s an email from a translator who can’t open the files, she’ll be writing a page-long explanation even if she still has to reply to a client’s request that came earlier and therefore appears less urgent. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a PM to spend an entire day on minor things without getting any major stuff done. I believe that the correct priorities are (1) external clients, (2) internal clients, and (3) only then everything else.
- Focusing on who’s right instead of on what’s right. Most people want to be right, and a PM is no exclusion. When there’s a misunderstanding with a client, a PM may become defensive and argue with the client rather than work out a solution promptly. Last year, a client came back to us and claimed we had failed to follow a specific project instruction. The instruction had been ambiguous, and we had misinterpreted it. The correct behavior in that case would’ve been to apologize and suggest our help. Instead, our PM wrote that we hadn’t received that instruction at all. Not only did he try to shift the responsibility for figuring out the solution, but he was also implying that the client made an error. He only cared about being right and proving that the client was wrong while dealing with the problem was of little concern to him. The client got understandably frustrated, made the corrections on their side, and, quite expectedly, reduced the payment for this project accordingly. Lessons learned: customer service isn’t where you let your feelings take over business sense.
- Forgetting to charge for additional work. We often “accidentally” end up doing quite a lot of work free of charge. This includes proofreading, DTP, or shortening the translation in accordance with the software space constraints, just to name three. Because a PM mainly focuses on the translation rate while he’s preparing a quote, he easily forgets about this kind of additional services. To avoid this requires thinking through the entire project before finalizing a quote and asking yourself who’s going to do what and who’s going to pay for this.
- Setting an unnecessarily tight deadline for a team. Many PMs were let down by the translators who failed to deliver on time or even at all. As a result, they become overcautious and eager to set very tight deadlines for a translator and an editor to make sure they have a safety net of time. A reasonable cushion is a good thing, but an unreasonable one is not. There’s no point in trying to secure a cushion and satisfy the client while at the same time making it impossible for the team to deliver high quality in the first place. You’re welcome to read more about this problem in my article about deadlines being set by translation agencies.
Thank you for reading this post. And what’s the most common error that you make while managing your translation projects? Feel free to share in the comments!