The Life of a Project Manager

Happy Hump Day everyone!! Now that I’m have a more flexible schedule as a freelancer, I’m excited to be able to blog more! Ever since I started my job in mid-June, I had meant to write a post about what it was like to be a project manager in the localization industry. But work and life got super hectic, and I never got the time to sit down and just write. So here goes!

My company is a small language service provider (LSP) or, in layman’s terms, a translation company. Our major clients are heath insurance companies. These companies are required to provide any written material in a member’s native language if it is not English. So these insurance companies turn to us to get all of their documents translated. The type of documents can vary. It could be information on the the types of plans that the companies offer. It could also be different types of letters that are going out to members, such as denial letters, notice letters, etc.

At larger LSPs, there are different departments, such as sales, computer assisted translation tools (CAT tools), desktop publishing, client relations, vendor management, etc. Since my company is so small (around 35 people) and the majority of the employees are projects managers, we are expected to take on all of these responsibilities.

When we receive a translation request from a client, we have to prepare a quote. To do that, we have to prep the file for analysis. To analyze the file, we run it through the CAT tool that we use, which is Trados 2007, SDL Studio 2011, or 2014.We use the analysis to come up with a word count that would in turn be generated into a quote for the client. After the quote has been approved by the client, the file is prepped for translation and sent to our linguists.

At my company (and most LSPs), the translation process actually consists of translation, editing, and proofreading (TEP). As we have many project managers in-house that have linguistic backgrounds, we do a large part of our proofreading in-house. For rarer languages, we send it to linguists for final review. After the file has been proofread and vetted, it is delivered to the client.

If the formatting of the file is simple (like a Word file), it is taken care of in-house. If the file is an InDesign file that is to be turned into a PDF, we usually send it to our designer. Sometimes, we get a file that has several different versions. What happens in this case, is we only have a master version of the file translated and formatted. Then we create the other versions in-house by modifying the master. This requires the PMs working on these files to understand the basics of InDesign and sometimes even Photoshop and Illustrator. After the file has been finalized, we send the project to our accounting department for invoicing.

The main responsibilities of the project manager to is make sure all the necessary tasks are completed within the time frame allotted by the client and facilitate the transition of the file from one stage of the translation process to the next. Sometimes, the clients ask for a quick turnaround time and we usually accommodate it. Being a PM requires a very clear head and great organization skills. I could be handling any number of files at the same time, all with different instructions, languages, deadlines, etc. I have to constantly keep track of my files and make sure everything is still on track for prompt delivery to the client.

This job requires a lot of emails, phone calls, coordinating, paper pushing, begging the clients for more time, pleading with linguists to deliver quicker, the list goes on… Sometimes, it’s a test of patience. It is very repetitive. While I learned some skills that were helpful, I feel the job quickly stopped being  challenging. And I’m someone that needs constant stimulation and obstacles to overcome. That, coupled with several other factors that are directly related to management and company culture, pushed me to quit my job after seven short months.

Are all LSPs like this? No, every company is different. LSPs work in different fields. There are different company structures that change the the environment and responsibilities of the PM. PMs could even be working client side and acting as the main contact person between that company and an LSP. If a company is large enough, like Google or Apple, they could run their own translation department and that could mean a different set of responsibilities for the PM.

Hope this post was helpful for everyone who wanted to learn more about the localization industry!


2 thoughts on “The Life of a Project Manager

  1. fallenjumi says:

    Is the requirement to provide translated materials nation-wide or just state-wide? Did working with certain materials, such as denial letters, cause any sadness in the beginning? Did you ever want to work as one of the linguists?

    Also, as I thought most PMs would come from TLM, do you feel that the CI program prepared you well to be a PM? Did you use any software to stay organized and on top of projects?

    Thanks for your sharing about your time working at a LSP. And I hope you find new stimulating linguistic challenges soon! 🙂

    • Joan Wang says:

      It is required in California. As for other states, I’m not sure, but the documents we do for our clients cover other states as well. Reading some of the denial letters were pretty sad. You come to realize how unhelpful and bloated the American healthcare system. A lot of people that really need care are not able to afford it. And their overly priced health insurance doesn’t exactly always have their member’s best interests at heart. Personally, I wouldn’t prefer to translated health insurance related materials. My interests lie in other fields 🙂
      I took a lot of the basic TLM courses while I did my CI degree so I think I was pretty well prepared. But being a PM also requires a lot of common sense, great communication skills, strong organization skills, stuff that an academic program wouldn’t teach.

      To stay on top of my projects, I kept a personal tracker. It was just a simple spreadsheet that tracked all of the info of a project. I also used it to keep track of how much revenue I was pulling in for the company. The tracker wasn’t required by my company but it’s best practice to keep one. We also utilize a translation management system that helps us process our projects, create quotes and invoices, send out job assignments to vendors, etc.

      Hope this answers your questions!

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