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Two Sources of Low Productivity at a Translation Agency

Photo by Dan Derret, you running, or working at, a translation agency?

If yes, you may have fallen victim of two major sources of less-than-perfect productivity. Since we are in the knowledge-worker age, I believe that the single most important reason for these defects is not knowing what you need to know.

Failure to use internal documentation

A major percentage of all productivity problems comes from not knowing how to tackle a specific challenge that arises in the course of a project. For example, a project manager loads a DOCX file into a CAT tool and finds out that the CAT tool displays the text with multiple superfluous tags. The PM realizes this is not good for translation and wants to fix it. The PM spends time, maybe an hour, trying to invent her own solution, but fails.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, she should have followed these steps:

  1. Refer to the internal knowledge base.
  2. Refer to the Internet.
  3. Ask for help internally.
  4. Ask for help on the Internet.

Of these four, I think the internal knowledge base is the most important. But what is it exactly?

Each time anyone at a translation agency comes up with a new idea, a best practice, or a useful process, he/she should document this information in the “knowledge base” available internally. This helps ensure that all processes are transparent. People follow standard processes instead of doing things their own way—and therefore suboptimally—each time. Whenever the same issues arise again, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel, because the solutions are already documented. A great example of an “internal knowledge base” for me is the wiki maintained by the Okapi developers. It is very comprehensive, and as soon as anything changes in the program, the developers update the wiki.

To use a knowledge base effectively, everyone at a translation agency must wear two hats: that of a contributor and that of an avid reader. A contributor’s hat is necessary to maintain documentation. As soon as a best practice is found or a change in a process is warranted, the person who came up with the idea should document it. Otherwise, others will not be working as productively as they could, or may not be able to proceed at all. Documenting takes discipline and time, but it is worth it.

The second hat is that of an avid reader. It is important to read the new documentation regularly, to increase your chances of remembering the solution when you need it. Also, whenever you have a question, look it up in the knowledge base before spending time looking for your own solution. Failing to be an avid reader results in not using the ideas and best practices documented in the knowledge base and ultimately leads to suboptimal productivity.

Not knowing how to get the most out of a specific program

When people start using a program, they generally don’t know how to use it effectively. A program can be mastered by taking some form of training or by reading the available materials, such as a user manual. Training usually requires involvement of other people and is therefore more expensive. This is why I believe reading a user manual and other materials is the most effective way to learn a program. By failing to do so, people at a translation agency miss the opportunity to get the most out of their software. Here are a few sad examples of using CAT tools suboptimally because of failure to understand their very basiс functions:

  1. OmegaT has recently introduced an option called Do not allow creating translated documents with tag issues under the Tag Validation Options. This option makes OmegaT validate tags before creating target files and prevents creating them if any tag issues are detected. A few days ago, our PM was finalizing a project in OmegaT. She had not learned about the new function yet. Because one of the tags in the project was deleted on purpose, OmegaT didn’t let her save the translated file. Instead of doing what’s right—turning this option off temporarily—she spent some time looking for a “workaround.” Eventually, she decided to delete the translation in OmegaT and restore the missing tag. After saving the translated file, she opened it and inserted the missing translation manually.
  2. When I was just starting out in the translation business, I outsourced a project to a translator who was supposed to use Trados in MS Word to translate it. During the job, he complained that using Trados took too much time. It turned out that each time he translated a segment, he would use the Trados menu in MS Word to close the segment and then open the next one. The menu? I couldn’t believe that. He was using the menu to move between segments in a 1,000-segment project. No wonder he got irritated. Of course, he should have used the keyboard shortcuts. They were actually indicated in the menu next to the commands. Using the menu was as inefficient as using a smartphone to write a blog post.


An efficient and standardized process at a translation agency requires three things: Users document their processes and solutions. They refer to, and follow, existing processes and solutions documented by others. They are willing to learn the main programs better.

For more information about how a translation agency can boost productivity, read the article about financial incentives for in-house translators.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.