Translation Project Management Demystified

Translation Project Management Demystified

By: Christine Dupont


Translation project management is a non-stop job that requires equal parts composure, meticulousness, versatility and top-notch analytical skills. It is rare that more than a few minutes go by without either a client or a team member needing something from us. In the midst of that whirlwind, we have to ensure that every decision we make will satisfy our clients, ensure quality work and foster our team’s wellbeing—three of Cartier et Lelarge’s keystone values that guide our everyday actions. In this Q-and-A-style article, we break down the balancing act that is translation project management.


What exactly happens after I send you a file to translate?

Whether submitted by email or via our portal, all translation requests are first assessed by our project management team. We start by processing your file with a translation memory that is tailored to you—a database of all the translations we have done for your company before. This tells us whether any parts of the text are the same as something that has already been translated, so that we can potentially reuse those parts to save time and ensure consistency between documents.

Next, we check the word count, any special instructions (e.g., translate only certain paragraphs) and, especially, the content of the text, to determine whether the requested deadline is realistic and decide which translator to assign to the project. Sometimes, we may also contact you at this stage to discuss the project timeline or clear up certain details.

Between tight deadlines and a high volume of work, we often have no more than a few minutes after a request is received to complete this process and enter the information into our system, so that the translator has as much time as possible to work.

Every translation is unique and must be “made to order.” In our daily whirlwind, every decision we make has to satisfy our clients, ensure quality work and foster our team’s wellbeing—three of Cartier et Lelarge’ keystone values.

Are all those steps really necessary?

Carefully assessing the documents in advance is essential to any project’s success because the document type and content determine everything: how long it will take, how much it will cost and which resources should be assigned to the project. Without the document details, any estimate of workload or deadlines will be a shot in the dark.

Some clients want us to translate the speaker’s notes in their PowerPoint presentations, while others do not. One Word document might be 100 words of simple text with no images or formatting, while another might have 10,000 words and include tables, complicated formatting and multiple images with text that needs to be transcribed separately. Beyond the amount of text, we also need to consider the type of text. Is the subject matter general, technical, marketing-related or legal? Will the translator need to have advanced technical or legal knowledge or conduct extensive research? And even then, a technical text can sometimes turn out to be quick and easy to translate, while a general text may end up taking a lot of time and effort.

Every translation is unique and must be “made to order.” So, we cannot make any assumptions about the scope of the work until we finish the initial assessment and check a few things with the client.


Why is it not always possible to have my translation delivered as quickly as requested?

Inevitably, many clients want to receive their translations quickly and all at the same time. In these cases, we need to track project assignments on an hourly basis to ensure that all our overlapping deadlines can be met. No matter how perfectly we spread out the workload, one big project or a few rush jobs can throw off the balance, forcing us to change it all.

Much like the speed of a car is measured in kilometres per hour, translation is measured in words per hour. As a company, we determine set average speeds—which can vary from one translator or text to another—to evaluate our workload and give ourselves the best possible chance of meeting our deadlines.

Why word counts? The number of pages, slides or paragraphs in a document is not a precise enough measure to tell how long a project will take, because the number of words per page, slide or paragraph varies from one file to the next.

However, we also need to factor in the availability of the appropriate resources at the time the request is received, which includes revision time—and the project management team’s time! As professionals, we would be remiss to assign texts to translators at random or to make a habit of delivering unrevised work. Of course, every firm has its own methods, but at Cartier et Lelarge, we believe that these standards are the baseline for high-quality translation.

Unfortunately, the best translator for the job is not always available at a given moment. In high-pressure situations, it can be tempting to assign projects to the first available person and leave it at that—but quality translation requires a good knowledge of the client and, especially, of the subject matter. It is counterintuitive, but sometimes, the most efficient choice is to wait until the right translator is free.


Why do you ask for reference documents or context about the translation?

The importance of context is often underestimated, and it is common to submit a document for translation without any further details. However, while our translators possess a wealth of general cultural knowledge and formidable research skills, they are not steeped, as you are, in your company’s specific corporate environment. Without that background, subtle but important details are easily overlooked, especially early on in the client relationship.

So, do not hesitate to tell us your terminological and stylistic preferences and, especially, to explain what your company does and why you are having the document translated. This gives us plenty of information to better understand the realities of your industry, and with it, your texts. Tell us about yourself, and your translations will speak for themselves!