Project management in a translation agency is like the engine of a large train, helping the train to run at full steam but steadily. Project management consists of people, processes, software and technologies, which together make it possible to offer, receive, resource, translate and return translations to customers in the most sensible way possible. In addition, other project-related records, updates and background work are carried out, and there is contact with the customer, of course.
Project management staff—or “Translation Services Managers” as we like to call them at Delingua—are often the customer’s first and most familiar human point of contact at Delingua. They are also called project managers, but for us it is important to emphasise the word “service” because, for the customer, it is specifically a service profession and, in terms of the process, about project management.
Project management as a job
Anyone unfamiliar with the field might imagine that the job of a translation services manager is very simple. The customer is given a price and when the order arrives the file is sent to the translator. Then, the same text is returned to the customer. What’s so special about that? Well, that is how it goes more or less, and the translation of one page from Finnish to English isn’t such a strange thing to do.
However, professionals in the field know that when four one-page translation requests like this arrive within the space of fifteen minutes and each translation is more urgent than the one before (e.g. when it concerns a statutory disclosure for a listed company), things start to get really busy. Of course, at the same time, one translation services manager has several dozen other projects ongoing, many of which are in dozens of languages, some with additional services (such as layout or search engine optimization), and some are otherwise a little unclear. You have to make and follow offers, cope with a sales manager breathing down your neck, discuss with a colleague the checkbox in the last corner of a software submenu and its impact on translations, set up invoicing with a person in finance, answer calls and react to emails in near real time. What’s so special about that? A professional in the field might say that’s a normal day.
Project management in a translation agency requires continuous prioritisation, quick decision making, seamless teamwork, clarification and consulting. The work is done not only by computer but also by telephone. Sometimes, we might even run over to the customer’s premises to deliver papers in an envelope if that’s the smartest solution. There are great days and, of course, there are bad days too. Most of the time, the days are great. There are few jobs in which you learn and see so many different things.
The customer’s best friend
An experienced translation services manager is worth their weight in gold. They view customers and projects like an experienced doctor: they encounter everyone as an individual and respectfully, listen carefully but see very quickly or often know in advance what the issue is and what needs attention now in particular. The ability to tolerate pressure and multi-task are essential requirements in translation project management. Likewise, an interest in customers is one factor that makes you stand out from the crowd quickly. Attitude matters a lot. You don’t have to give your whole soul, but the desire to be part of the customer’s solution and not the problem helps greatly.
Software, technologies and processes are constantly developing, and even an old hand needs to learn more from time to time. It’s been more than a decade since my own years in project management and, unlike then, AI-based tools and integrations are now commonplace in project management. Technology both helps and makes work more complex. While the amount of manual work has decreased with automation, anticipation and problem solving are now emphasised even more. When speaking with customers, completely new types of service needs can come up and the translation services manager will be involved in their development. Of course, every translation services manager has their own area of expertise, such as special knowledge of software, which they can share with colleagues, but there’s also a lot to learn from others.
Do you see yourself as a translation services manager?
Few are born as a translation services manager, but many grow to become one. Those who started their studies or working life in the last millennium might have suddenly, almost mysteriously, found themselves in the project management profession instead of the translation profession. Today, this sort of job description is already more familiar, and you can get on board this moving train, for example, through training programmes or simply by contacting a translation agency. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s better to start safely under the guidance of experienced professionals. The only thing that is certain is no two days are ever alike!