Project Management Applied to the Translation Business

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By Ana Teresa Gaspar
Building a petroleum platform, producing an airplane or developing an information system are examples of complex tasks attributed to a project manager, who assures that everything will be delivered on the time agreed, within budget, using the proper resources and at a minimum risk. These complex tasks require contributions from a number of disciplines, for instance, engineering, accounting, legal, commercial etc.
Project management is widely applied in diverse contexts as engineering and Information Technology (IT). Recently, project management practices have been gaining considerable momentum in other sectors of business, like, nanotechnology, fashion business, climate change and translation business. These nontraditional sectors started applying project management aiming to achieve greater efficiency in their processes.
Before defining what project management is, some concepts regarding this broad topic must be presented. First of all, it is important to define project. The Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading not-for-profit professional membership association for the project management profession, defines project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. PMI states that the project is temporary since it has a defined beginning and end in time, and consequently, defined scope and resources. Besides, a project is unique since it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to achieve a singular goal.
A project must be integrated and coordinated from beginning to the end. It should be kept in mind that risk of failure is inherent to any project. This is the main characteristic of any project. Many times, the failure of the project is caused by delays in the delivery and excessive expenses in project implementation.
Management has been defined in different ways. As can be seen in Kumar (2017), management is the technique of understanding the problems, needs and controlling the use of resources, cost, time, scope and quality.
And, project management is about understanding the sources of risk and seeking to correct or minimize the problem. According to PMI, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Using tools, processes and techniques of project management are the sound way to achieve the desired results, or using the jargon of project management, the required deliverables. A deliverable is defined by the Association for Project Management (APM) as a product, set of products or package of work that will be delivered to, and formally accepted by, a stakeholder. Examples of deliverables include documents, hardware, software, processes, services, or any combination thereof.
Project management processes fall into five groups (PMBOK® Guide), namely: 1) initiating, 2) planning, 3) executing, 4) monitoring and controlling and, 5) closing.
Kumar (2017) rightly emphasizes planning as the most important phase of project management. According to the APM, planning determines what is to be delivered, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered, how it will be delivered and who will carry it out. After the definition of the planning, it comes the scheduling phase.
As Kumar (2017) presents, scheduling is the process of formalizing the planned activities, assigning durations, resources and sequence of occurrence in consultation with the team members. The controlling phase involves taking corrective actions to produce the desired outcomes when significant variances from the planned performance exist. And, the closing phase is the process of formally finalizing all activities of the project. It starts with the approval of the end product followed by an evaluation of the project success or failure.
Kumar (2017) also points out the key features in successful project implementations, namely, Project Cost Management, Project Quality Management, Project Human Resource Management, Project Communication Management, Project Risk Management, Project Procurement Management, Project Change Management and, Project Document Management.
All these project activities can be integrated into the system using Project Integration Management. This area of knowledge consists of six processes (PMBOK® Guide):

  • Development of the project charter.
  • Development of the project management plan.
  • Directing and monitoring of project execution.
  • Monitoring and controlling of the project work.
  • Performing integrated change control.
  • Closing the project or phase.

As the APM states, every project needs a manager. The project manager is the person in charge of managing projects on a full-time basis, who makes use of tools, processes, and techniques of project management and is responsible to provide the results. He/she is challenged to achieve the right balance among time, scope, and cost, the triad of project management, without compromising quality. Among the tasks of the project manager is to understand the necessities, that is, the objectives and requirements of the clients so as to avoid undesirable consequences.
As far as the translation sector is concerned, a translation project involves many processes ranging from translation to proofreading, besides non-linguistic aspects. This increase in complexity makes project management highly necessary. Usually, clients hire translation agencies for managing high-volume translation works. The translation agencies manage terminology, style, grammar and spelling, translation, project management, business relationship, requirements, timelines, non-linguistic processes, translation, editing, proofreading, quality assessment, desktop publishing and, post-delivery.
This way, besides integration, effective communication is also vital to a successful translation project management. The project manager needs to communicate with the internal and external stakeholders, that is, everyone involved in the project, like production team (linguists, engineers, desktop publishers and other subject matter experts), account executives and clients on an on-going basis.
Being a project manager in the translation business can be an arduous role. Marta Stelmaszak cites some of the responsibilities of a translation project manager, like negotiate with the clients, issue quotes, assign jobs to translators, punish them for typos or late deliveries and find good excuses for clients, give answers to any questions translators may have, call here and there, among others.
In view of the concepts presented above, without some structure, serious errors often result. And, with translation projects could not be different. Conducting or supervising a translation project is not a simple task since decisions should be taken at high management levels.
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