The end of humanity in project management




  • Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!

    With translation project management increasingly taking the form of a process in which jobs are proposed without personal contact maintaining good standards is becoming more and more difficult.

    Flooded in cyberspace

    ‘Dear Premium translators’, reads the email. ‘We have just assigned new files to the Auction. […] Claim only files which you can deliver by a deadline. Files with missed deadlines will be taken away from you with no warning and no right to compensation (no matter how much work you have already done)’.
    The opening words sound like music to my ears. Which professional translator is not charmed by being called a ‘premium translator’. I admit that there are system-generated emails that sound even more blunt. I nevertheless miss an important aspect of my relationship with the translation agent who sent this email: it is not being addressed to me personally. I am only one of the ‘Premium translators’ to which this job is sent, and I will for sure miss this opportunity if I do not act in time.

    The job offer mentioned above is only one of the dozens of automatically generated emails I receive every day. Maybe it has to do with the particular clients I work with or with the translation agencies with whom I cooperate, but every day my inbox is flooded with system-generated emails that offer me translation jobs. I receive ‘invitations’, ‘job offers’, ‘notifications’ and other emails with all sorts of jobs with varying volumes and deadlines. In many cases these are sent to a group of translators, some of them working on a first come, first serve basis, others offering an opportunity to propose a quotation, thus ensuring some competition between translators. If I do not reply directly or if the bids of competing translators are too high I receive a reminder – and again, and again. If the digital environment still does not succeed in convincing me, a real project manager finally gives it a try by sending me an email or calling me out of urgency. In these cases I am already flooded by an enormous wave of invitations and reminders for each particular job. And if another translator manages to accept a job, I receive a friendly email telling me that the job is no longer available or that I was not selected (but of course someone behind the email is hoping I will have better luck next time)

    Dear Premium translator…

    A world of efficiency gains for project managers

    The emergence of the internet has brought a multitude of benefits to translators and interpreters, not least of which are the rise of marketplaces like ProZ.com where translation agencies and freelance professionals can find each other. It has also enabled agencies to build their own systems for project management, invoicing, and enterprise resource planning. Imagine the benefits of having a platform where agencies can post their jobs, manage the files, assign the right translator, receive their translations, and finish the invoicing and other related tasks: that is much easier than storing files on a local computer or server, attaching them to emails in which translators are asked whether they have the right knowledge and skills and whether they are available, etcetera. Where project management suites enable us to work online, whether or not with email notifications, the old way of managing projects inherently required loads of emails with big attachments. In 2019 managing projects is easier than ever, even with complex tasks like quality management and assigning jobs in multiple language combinations. Thanks to new technologies project managers can work more efficiently, thus saving time and resources, and increasing the margin on translation projects – which are increasingly under pressure to lower rates. Furthermore, project managers can handle both very large and very small jobs in the same way, thus benefiting from standardization in their work. There is no doubt that life has become easier for project managers than a couple of years ago.

    Less personal approach

    There is no doubt that new project management systems not only benefit project managers themselves but translators also reap the fruits of automated project management. They no longer have to work with burdensome email attachments and can often indicate their availability by clicking on a link. It eases the communication and prevents errors in the process. Nevertheless the introduction of management platforms has an enormous impact on the personal aspect of cooperating: step by step, it is removing the humanity from project management.

    A first indication of the less personal approach is the example above. I admit that it is easy nowadays to personalize automated emails, and the ‘Dear Premium translator’ email is an awful example of not putting that into practice. However, personalized emails do not differ that much from the email above. In the end, personalization is only a matter of a string, and still doesn’t add the aspect of personal contact to the cooperation. That lack of personal contact leaves its marks everywhere: there is no chance to discuss a deadline, no way to ask questions, and it guarantees anonymity (to some extent at least). Project management tools often still offer a calendar to indicate a preferred deadline or a form to submit queries, but the first line of contact is no longer available.
    It is exactly that lack of personal contact that means the end of humanity in project management. From the dozens of automated emails I receive everyday I delete at least 95% without taking action. If I am only one of the recipients I can almost rest assured that a colleague will accept a job if I do not. Furthermore, why should I take action if I am overloaded with so much email and no one will follow up if I do not reply in any case?
    Another aspect of automation is that every single file is added to the same loop. I remember last year, when a client sent combined jobs with several files that added up to at least 300 words. Nowadays, they use a project management system and I am receiving jobs with ‘4.70’, ‘25.34’ and ‘70.1’ words; that’s still only 100 words (‘100.14’ to be exact) out of three emails, meaning that on average I will receive nine invitations to come up with the same word count as before the system was introduced.
    And, when I finally accept a job (and it is granted, which I am also not sure of until I receive a confirmation) and deliver my translations, I will receive a confirmation, and in the best case an (automatically generated) quality score to let me know that I received a pass or fail (which in many cases has no consequences whatsoever)

    From troll army to heroes

    The best approach to project management is still a personal approach. Last year I received an email from a project manager asking whether I was still interested in cooperation as I had ignored 300 job invitations. It made me realize one thing: project management systems are great, but the lack of personal contact holds me back from cooperating. Only after some further back and forth did I decide to jump on the project train again, knowing that there is still some personal contact in the process. I am working much less for another client who switched from personal contact to automated emails because I got lost in the anonymity of project management cyberspace. Personal contact might seem outdated in 2019, but it is still key to effective cooperation. Anonymous translators are bound to become the troll army of translation cyberspace. Only by looking them right into their eyes can people see that they are the real heroes.

    Pieter Beens

    About Pieter Beens

    Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

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