The Daily "Mission Impossible" of the Project Manager

The translation world is changing daily, with new technologies, new challenges, and new concepts, yet some parameters remain the same. This, however, does not mean that they are widely understood. Take the role of the Translation's Project Manager, for example. Translation's Project Managers have always been an essential element in the services provided by translation companies, but their function is widely misunderstood and unrecognized. The role of a Project Manager has never been an easy one, but now it is further complicated by the requirements of localization, globalization, DTP, and Post DTP, and more.

For freelance translators, project management is relatively easy, because, once the decision to accept the job is taken, all they have to do is perform the translation and return it to the client.

For a translation company, however, a number of people are involved in the process, and the project manager is in charge of managing all the actors concerned and of ensuring that the client receives a perfect translation on the agreed delivery date.

However, describing the project manager's role in one single sentence is misleading, as this by no means does justice to the complex operations involved. Here is a list of the project manager's duties for a single translation project:



Keeping an updated list of translators - editors - interpreters


Keeping track of the performance of each translator/editor/interpreter, which involves continuously evaluating their computer and linguistic skills


Receiving job requests from clients


Assessing the level of difficulty of the job


Negotiating with the client regarding an achievable delivery time, given the nature and length of the source material for translation and the complexity of the formatting required


Negotiating rates with clients


Identifying the best translator/editor for the job


Assessing the nature of the material and the target audience - by creating suitable instructions for the linguists involved. (For example, a certificate targeted to a governmental authority would require a word‑for‑word match to the source, while an informational document targeted to a public audience would require a much simpler and more direct language register.)


Checking the translator's and editor's availability - and adjusting the delivery time agreed with the client to suit the linguists' availability accordingly, always keeping in mind that things can change and some extra time may be required to accomplish the job



Transferring the source material and the client's special requirements to the translator and creating "shortcuts" for the linguists involved, such as templates for tables, text boxes, and flowcharts, and special terms and phrases


Answering the linguists' concerns, by finding suitable reference material, consulting the client, or by searching the web. Conveying the translator's questions to the client and conveying the answers to the translator


Creating an applicable glossary for the job/jobs in the same field of expertise


Supervising the translator to ensure that he/she will keep to the deadline


Assisting if a formatting issue arises


Keeping the linguists within the schedule by reminding them, a couple of hours or days ahead of the time when they agreed to deliver the job 


Receiving the translation and transferring it to the editor together with the source material



Supervising the editor to ensure that he/she will keep to the deadline (See evolvement in II above,)


Conveying the editor's questions to the translator and/or to the client, and conveying the answers to the editor


Receiving the edited translation



Performing a quality assurance check, which consists of checking whether the formatting of the source text matches that of the translated text, making a final spell check, checking for numbering or bulleting mistakes for example, and for possible omissions


Sending the final version of the file to the client. When necessary, this implies adding comments for the client's benefit. For example:

  • - Mistakes, typos, etc., found in the source file
  • - Problems with the translation, such as:
  • - Spelling of names - various languages may distort people's names, phonetics, addresses
  • - Contemporary phrases - like "there's a situation" - have different meanings in different languages, e.g., English/Hebrew.
  • - Length of sentences
  • - Conversion of units of measurement, and so on...



Addressing any concerns that the client may have regarding the job, from general formatting comments or questions, to quality complaints from the client


Answering them with the help of the translator or editor who worked on the translation, or re-evaluating the quality of the job by assigning an alternative translator or editor

This far-from-exhaustive list of the project manager's duties is nevertheless long enough to demonstrate the combination of qualities that are indispensable, in order to function successfully as a project manager.

Obviously, the ideal project manager must be highly organized and able to multitask. In the current computerized era, the PM must of course fully master the IT tools required, but he/she must also be expert in managing people and display above‑average communication skills. These must include the ability to:

  • Quickly learn professional terms and figures of speech
  • Micro-manage as well as macro-manage large-scale linguistic projects (such as, providing the same medical or legal document in a number of different languages)
  • Understand the register requirements for the appropriate target audience

These are the "mission impossible" tasks assigned to any Translation's Project Manager as a matter of course. However, the duties listed above only apply to simple translation and editing jobs. The list of additional duties entailed in the supervision of localization, globalization, DTP and Post DTP of the document is so long that it simply would not fit into the space allocated for this article.

In fact, although the job title may only be two words long, an exhaustive job description would require several pages.

So, whether you are a client, a translator or an employer, the next time you feel that the project manager assigned to you is too "slow on the ball," please keep in mind that your Translation's Project Manager is a highly skilled juggler with many balls in the air at all time and deserving heartfelt applause for succeeding in catching them all.