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Fortunately, the old narrative is changing.

Obsolete industry caricatures depict the localization project manager as no more than a traffic director or file pusher. Within that old narrative, the participation of localization PMs in production processes is limited to sending files for translation to translators, collecting translated files, and passing those files on to subsequent localization stages. The perceived simplicity of the role means that PMs are pushed to push more files. RUSH is the operative word within this kind of a localization model: rush deadlines, in volumes, leading to unsustainable workloads, overtime, and burnout for PMs who don’t feel appreciated for or connected to their work.

This sort of narrative also implies a less than positive working relationships between PMs and the professional translators (i.e. talent) they rely on for the localization product. Professional translators spend years honing their subject matter expertise. They tend to have multiple advanced degrees that qualify them to work in a particular domain. Translators of law, for instance, are lawyers. Translators of engineering are engineers. On top of their subject matter expertise, professional translators have advanced training in translation in order to understand the nuances involved in taking content from one cultural system and conveying that content to a totally different culture.

Working with a PM who has a “file pusher” mentality is unnecessarily stressful for this translation talent. The lack of critical analysis on the part of this PM makes the translator’s jobs harder. When important considerations such as terminology, how to deal with textual ambiguities, etc. are not planned for, the translator’s work becomes slow and inefficient. The miscommunications that result from the lack of planning also adversely impact the quality of the final product. Reactive, last-minute adjustments to meet client preferences lead to inconsistencies being introduced into translated content and unnecessary stress for all team members involved in a localization project.

Fortunately, the old narrative is changing.

Take, for example, the blog post Trust Me, I’m a Project Manager, in which WeLocalize’s Rachel Barakat states the following:

Strong project managers (PMs) form the foundation of many long-standing localization partnerships with global brands for so many reasons. It’s a role in the language industry that has evolved, where each PM is now seen as a strategic business partner, rather than a file-pusher, identifying opportunities to create efficiencies and preventing issues rather [than] reactive problem resolution.

Rachel Barakat, Trust Me, I’m a Project Manager

Barakat points to some of the key skills for localization PMs: “meticulously organized, technologically adept, systems focused, and efficiency driven.” Foremost among PM skills are “managing teams of people and encouraging open communication.”

In When will project managers be automated away? Now., Andrew Lawless discusses how automation has changed the role of the PM. He notes that many of the traditional “file pusher” type tasks that used to be the responsibility of the PM, such as “file management, email writing, reporting, quoting, scheduling,” can now be mostly automated. While automation in any industry is usually initially received with a fear that humans will be replaced by machines, today’s localization PMs are excited about how technology frees their time from boring, repetitive tasks. The automation that frees PMs’ time from the data entry associated with manually taking content through localization production workflows is welcome by both PMs and LSPs for another reason. Because automation increases PMs’ bandwidth to more meaningfully manage greater volumes of diverse projects, PMs are now strategically positioned to contribute to increased revenue for firms. Automation in turn contributes to greater opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge as PMs see more types of content. Automation also frees PMs’ time to lead teams, educate clients, monitor progress, and respond to changes to jobs and deviations in processes. That is to say, automation ultimately increases job satisfaction.

This means a shift in the types of skills that the PMs of today and tomorrow must hone and develop. Technical, research, and problem-solving skills are a must for PMs who must quickly adapt and learn new technology to onboard new clients. The ability to collaborate and keep projects moving while working with diverse teams means that skills like emotional intelligence are a must-have for today’s PMs as well. According to Lawless, “Localization professionals that can apply soft skills… in critical thinking, interpersonal interaction, consumer preference analysis, communication, team building, leadership, and social and cultural awareness are most needed in the future.”

The change in narrative is welcome to industry employers as well. When LPMs are engaged with their work, and not burned out, employers have a better chance of retaining institutional knowledge, rather than get caught in endless hiring cycles!

Works cited

Barakat, Rachel. Trust me, I’m a project manager. welocalize blog, welocalize, 24 Apr. 2018, https://www.welocalize.com/trust-me-im-a-project-manager/.

Goleman, Daniel and Richard E. Boyatzis. “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?” Harvard Business Review, 06 Feb. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/02/emotional-intelligence-has-12-elements-which-do-you-need-to-work-on.

Lawless, Andrew. “When will project managers be automated away? Now.” LinkedIn, 30 Nov. 2017, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/project-managers-automated-away-andrew-lawless/.

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