5 ways in which Project Management Automation will affect Translation Quality
Over the last few years, the translation industry has undergone constant changes. While the introduction of MT (machine translation) is one of the most talked about topics, project management automation is a phenomenon which is rarely, if ever, talked about.
These days, more and more job offers landing in our email inboxes are sent via automated processes, which means that fewer project managers are needed. These changes in project management processes have brought about consequences that might prove detrimental to End-clients —those who will actually use the translation and risk suffering the consequences thereof.
The following are some ways in which project management automation affects translation quality, and hence the lives of end-users:
It removes the human factor. Translation is mostly, by definition, a solitary job during which human contact is minimal. When you take human project managers out of the equation, this job becomes lifeless and robs the translators of the opportunity to have some human interaction in the process. A bad PM is better than an automated process, although I would choose not to put up with either.
It prioritizes translators based on their reaction speed, rather than their ability/qualification to take on certain projects. In many instances, the job offers sent in this manner contain expired links, which means that another translator was quicker to respond and got the job. The natural consequence here is that it will be harder for agencies to build a long-term business partnership with translators because the determinant factor will not be a translator’s quality, performance and help given to the agency (agencies know what I am talking about) but the translator’s reaction speed to job offers.
It could damage the agencies themselves because they won’t be able to establish a rapport with their translators, which could be beneficial in times of need. Closely linked to the previous point: Automated emails ‘wipe out’ the translator’s history of communication with/assistance to the agency (especially in ways that can’t be quantified numerically). Sometimes we, the translators, go out of our way to help agencies and, provided that the agency is happy with our work, we expect them to ‘return our favor’ in the form of prioritization (where possible) over other translators. As an example, there was a company I helped in many instances, and when they implemented these automated processes it all boiled down to who could react faster: the quickest to respond would get the job. My favorite clients are agencies that work with highly professional human project managers who have built a rapport with me—their trusted translator—and these are the clients who always get priority over those who send automated emails. And I never mind doing them a favor or two once in a while because I know I will be appreciated.
It prioritizes reaction speed to the detriment of quality. While reaction speed in responding to automatically sent job offers is important (deadlines have to be met, right?), putting translators in a position where they compete based on reaction speed rather than quality will definitely have a negative effect on translation quality, as translators will not spend time to assess whether they can take on the given project or not. In many cases, I have had to spend a few minutes to check the project in order to assess whether I could take it or not (based on my experience and qualifications) but by the time I had done so, the project was already taken. It’s very unlikely that the translator who jumped in first really had enough time to assess their ability and qualifications in taking on such a project. They just accepted it. It’s possible that the project fell within their expertise, but let’s not forget that - as is the case in every industry, not just translation—not every translator works ethically.
This practice is an insult to dedicated professionals. Messages like “Hurry up” are insulting to any translator who has put his/her heart and mind in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to perform a proper translation—a translation which, in certain cases, such as with medical materials, can be life-saving. Translators are “knowledge workers”, in every sense of the word. Such automated, lifeless and downright insulting communication could lead to less satisfaction among translators who truly value their work.
In conclusion, while I understand that agencies try to save as much as they can on costs, if they cut corners with regard to human interaction and translator appreciation (by reducing it to reaction speed), this will be detrimental in the long-term. Profit is important, but it must be acquired in ethical ways, i.e. methods that will not adversely affect the ultimate goal of non-literary translation, which is to improve peoples’ lives.
I hope this will be a wake-up call to the many agencies out there that have implemented or plan to implement automated processes in project management.
M.Sc. Jonis Buzi