Once a project involves several people, tasks, languages, components, or even competes with other projects, drawing a complete and accurate schedule is definitely a must.
The challenge of project management lies in the breadth of the subject material involved and the wide variety of translation requests it encompasses. Every project is different, every company (whether an end client or a translation agency) has its own management methods, and every project participant has their own concerns depending on the role they play. However, one area where everyone needs to be on the same page is scheduling.
When sending a translation project for bidding or for immediate production, clients either indicate a delivery date or ask subcontractors to propose one. In both cases, the latter have to schedule their time to make sure they can meet the deadline. The translators (or any other project participants) then need to determine whether they can complete their own tasks within the allocated time frame. Translation project managers also have to work out how to deliver a quality project on time and put together a skilled team. To ensure a successful scheduling process, everyone involved needs to pay attention to the aspects discussed below.
After an accurate analysis of files and volumes (e.g., number of words, number of illustrations to localize, number of pages for desktop publishing, etc.), the first planning step is to evaluate the number of working hours or days required for the project. Knowing how many units can be processed per hour or per day for each production task involved in the project is essential for this calculation. For instance, the translation of a technical guide could be based on production metrics of 2,500 source words per day. For marketing jobs, translators might prefer to use estimates of 2,000 source words per day. And for software translation, where translators often lack content (e.g., when translating user interface strings) and possibly use a specific localization program, it might be preferable to reduce those to 1,500 source words per day.
Obviously, translation metrics can be adjusted according to the complexity of the subject, the translator’s skills, or even the time needed to look for references. Other factors could affect translators’ productivity, and for some specific projects (e.g., the translation of medical software involving new technology and a lot of research), the pace of translation might be limited to 750 source words per day.
The amount of material to be translated could also influence the metrics. In a large project, a translator might start slowly, translating 1,000 words of documentation per day at the beginning, and then reach up to 3,000 at the end. Reversely, for small projects of a few hundred words, translators might never manage their usual production metrics.
Freelance translators sometimes accept large or complex projects that they have to subcontract either to other translators or to specialists in charge of production tasks like revision, desktop publishing, screen shooting, and testing. As for project managers, they nearly always entrust all tasks to others. Consequently, it’s crucial that they know which metrics to apply to each task, since units and time frames might differ. For instance, the revision of a technical document might be based on 7,500 source words per day, the layout work in Adobe InDesign might be evaluated at four pages per hour, and the number of screenshots taken per hour might amount to 20, depending on the complexity of the related localized software and the potential use of a specific tool for this task.
Besides the extra metrics to master, team members’ availability could also influence the schedule. End clients might not have considered this point, but sometimes subcontractors cannot guarantee a specific delivery date if their experts are not free.
Adding people to a project can help reduce the schedule, for example, by distributing the volume of words to be translated among several translators. This might lead to some consistency issues that could be narrowed down thanks to a high level of communication within the translation team, but also by adding a revision step afterwards. Nevertheless, revision should not necessarily start only when all the files have been translated. On the contrary, translators can deliver their files on a continuous basis during the project so revisers can start early in the process and share feedback with them as quickly as possible. The same goes for other tasks, such as desktop publishing, which could be launched once the linguistic aspect of the first files has been finalized. This overlapping reduces the number of days spent on the project, since various people perform several tasks at the same time.
Clients don’t always need translations into only one language. For some projects, they sometimes request dozens of target languages, involving translation teams who might be based around the world and are subject to other time zones, holiday periods, and even working days. Forgetting to take this information into consideration might be fatal when scheduling a multilingual project. Sometimes, such as the early release of a product in countries where potential is high, the end client could also ask for some languages to be delivered before others. In this case, the subcontractor has to prepare a number of sub-schedules for the various language groups. Finally, when a single provider or department within a translation agency is responsible for technical tasks, such as desktop publishing, the time needed for the task is obviously multiplied by the number of target languages. If this results in some unreasonable deadlines, the team might be extended with other freelancers, internal teams, or even partner companies.
Some translation projects come with more than one component. For instance, a software localization project might contain software interface files, a user manual, an installation guide, a marketing brochure, and an animation. A variety of tasks and production metrics are associated with those parts and have to be slotted into the overall schedule. Additionally, the link between some components sometimes influences their position in the schedule.
By way of example, starting with just the software translation is preferable, since many key terms and strings displayed in the user interface (UI) also appear in the other components. Sharing the final localized software strings after UI revision with the translators in charge of the documents and animation certainly increases accuracy and consistency. Furthermore, planning the screenshots step for the guides too early in the process could be problematic. The target software needs to be final (ideally after full testing and debugging) before shooting the target screens to be included in the translated documentation.
Finally, the sequence of the components might also be guided by the decision to focus on consistency and limiting the number of participants. Keeping the same translators throughout the process would mean that the translation of each component only starts when the previous component is completely translated. If feasible, the same could apply to revision, desktop publishing, quality assurance, and other processes. However, it’s also important to emphasize that under specific circumstances, ideal conditions don’t apply and all components are handled in parallel, probably with many people working on all the tasks.
Scheduling a single translation project might already be complex, but when several projects have to be launched for a number of clients, the situation becomes even more challenging. Freelance translators having to deal with multiple requests should be extremely cautious and accurately calculate the time they need for each project, taking into account the exact time frame and priority level allocated to each one. Facing the same kind of obligations, project managers also have to meticulously select the right people for each project, making sure not to overload their resources with too many tasks assigned on the same days. Building a multi-project schedule is sometimes a good idea.
Determining a Deliverable that Works
Not all translation projects are complex enough to require a professional schedule, possibly made in MS Excel or by using a special planning tool such as MS Project. Freelancers, and even translation project managers, can often quickly estimate the best delivery date by mentally calculating the number of working days or writing down a few notes on paper. Nevertheless, once a project involves several people, tasks, languages, components, or even competes with other projects, drawing a complete and accurate schedule is definitely a must. Whatever the method used, the key point remains being 100% sure that everything has been taken into consideration to propose or confirm a deadline that will be met by all means without any compromise on quality.
Nancy Matis has been involved in the translation business for almost 20 years, working as a translator, reviser, technical specialist, project manager, and teacher, among other roles. After obtaining degrees in translation and social and economic sciences, she worked for an international language services firm for several years. She currently manages her own company based in Belgium, specializing in localization, translation project management, consulting, and training. She also teaches translation project management at Université Lille 3 (France), KU Leuven (Belgium), Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), and through webinars. Besides publishing articles on project management and the importance of teaching this subject to future translators, she has also written about terminology management in projects and quality assurance in translation (www.translation-project-management.com). She is the author of How to Manage Your Translation Projects. Contact: email@example.com.