Part 1 of the article series Translation: Are You Costing Your Company Money?
Drawing on my own experience working in a Japanese translation service agency in dealing with global firms, deadlines - the fear of slipped of deadlines (usually tied to product launches) - is one of the primary drivers of projects. If clients don't demand an unreasonable delivery date as a condition for awarding a project, they almost always press for ASAP.
Naturally, deadlines are an essential tool in business; however, the nearly ubiquitous demand of ASAP generally is indicative of a much larger problem. That is, lack of an effective strategy (or lack of a strategy altogether) specifically for translation which is considered almost an after thought of a larger process such as a product launch.
The next section provides a real world example to illustrate how failure to develop an effective strategy is a primary cause of translation errors that may be costing your company money.
Real World Example
The due date for the English Japanese translation project below was a mere 3 days from receipt of the job notification email.
Okay, let's jump right in here with a project breakdown analysis:
- Specialized knowledge required: 5-6 sets of expertise
Because of the broad range of specialized knowledge required, there are relatively few qualified translators available for the project.
- Specialized skill required: SDLX Translation Suite
This is a translation memory software that, being quite expensive, not many translators can afford. That pool of qualified translators just got a whole lot smaller.
- Number of translators required: 67-111
Japanese Translators required is a function of project volume (500,000 words) divided by project duration (3 days) divided by daily capacity per translator (1,500 words per day) equals 111.
Many translators claim daily capacity of 2,500 words or more -- After more than 10 years of hiring translators, I still have to see one that can maintain quality standards above the 1,500 word threshold. However, I will cede the point for illustration purposes: 500,000 words divided by 3 days divided by 2,500 words per day equals 67.
Not very many agencies have a full-time translation staff this large. And, I guarantee you 100% NO translation service company on the planet has a full-time translation staff this large on hand with the right knowledge and skills for this particular project. Qualified translators need to be recruited.
- Number of proof-checkers required: 17-28
Proof-checking requires an additional 25% of resources, or 17-28 different translators.
Proof-checking eliminates translation errors, which even the best human translators are prone to. Without proof-checking, you can never be quite sure of the quality that you get!
- Project setup time required: 3 days +
This means assembling the team of translators, proof-checkers, project managers, disseminating project instructions and (SDLX) translation memory databases, etc.
On a project this large, 3 days setup is wishful thinking! For example, each translator recruited needs to be evaluated to ensure that they are qualified for the job (i.e. this means reviewing resumes, references, sample translations, and/or trial translations, concluding NDAs, and finalizing contracts, etc).
If you followed the analysis above, I am sure you can see how this project can never be completed within 3 days, according to your quality expectations.
Indeed, companies that have a strategy in place never launch these kinds of projects; they understand not only the tremendous importance of translation in today's global market place, but also that translation errors can and do seriously impact their bottom line.
However, let's read on and find out how you're on a slippery slope of lost revenue.
No Strategy...What could possible go wrong?
The pressure is on! Delivery on this project is ASAP, so you're pushing ahead regardless. You have secured an ironclad guarantee for your deadline from a service provider, so, hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Translation agencies respond well to pressure. As with all mature industries, the competition is incredibly tough. The agency you contracted knows that if it does not deliver, it will lose a client so it promises the sky. Here are just some of the many "tricks of the trade" agencies can employ to meet your unrealistic deadline:
- Cut corners during the translator evaluation process resulting in unqualified translators on the project.
- Bring non-native translators onto the team producing unnatural, or stilted, translation.
- Pressure translators to increase their daily capacity resulting in countless translation errors.
- Employ machine translation (MT) that more often than not produces gibberish.
- Cut back, or skip altogether, the proof-checking process allowing errors to go to print undetected.
Now, let's step back a moment and consider what just happened. You have taken possession of a translation project that could not possibly be completed according to your quality expectations. This project contains more errors than a high school essay!
If your project is tied to a product launch, a delayed launch is the better option here (although painful and probably quite expensive). In today's competitive market place, a product launch under this scenario would be akin to the kiss of death!
But these do not need to be the only outcomes. Read on.
Develop an effective strategy
The following strategy will reduce revenue lost to translation errors (and maintain product launches):
- Develop a set of quality standards for all projects.
- Implement a project management system to ensure professional steward of projects.
- Employ a professional project manager.
- Establish a single point-of-contact role (usually project manager) for all stakeholders.
- Create a guideline for identifying the right external service providers for each project.
Projects shepherded to completion with an effective translation strategy boost bottom lines.
Reduce and eliminate errors -- Strategy + Alpha
If you are guilty of operating without a translation strategy, apply the lessons you take away from this article today, and ensure your company no longer loses revenue through avoidable translation errors.
Common sense must also prevail.
An industry professional once joked that clients expect translators to wield a magical translation wand, referring to unreasonable project delivery requirements (the ASAP syndrome). If this were true, clients would be buying the wand, not the service! In a high pressure culture where everything is "get this done like yesterday already," it is quite easy to lose perspective even with a strategy in place.
However, consider this. It takes months, sometimes even years of research, analysis and testing to develop effective material that achieves its intended purpose. Is it really possible to capture the essence of your materials nuances and all, in such a way that it is effective in the translated language, in a mere 3 day project?
About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Tokyo Translation Service Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services
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