How Translation Companies Operate

How Translation Companies Operate

Whether you’re a translator or reviewer involved directly with translations, or a company regularly seeking translation services, I bet you’ve wondered—at one point or another—how translation companies manage to deliver their services.

If this has never crossed your mind then, hey, go read something else as this article deals entirely with this topic!

The Internals of a Language Service Provider

As uninviting—unless you’re zombie—the above title may seem, the term Language Service Provider (aka LSP) is the formal designation of a company that offers, among other language-related things, translation services. (Those other “things” are, mainly, interpretation and transcription services.) More often than not, you might see the acronym MLV attributed to LSPs; in such cases MLV stands for Multi-Language Vendor. (For a crash course on the Translation Industry’s terminology check out my glossary.)

A translation company, being a business entity after all, has to conform to the well-established notion of organizational departments. In this respect, and taking into account the intricacies of language-related services, a common organizational chart relating to LSPs looks like this:

Organizational Chart of a Translation Company

Note: To simplify things, I’ve intentionally left out departments not directly involved with the translation process, such as Marketing, Sales, and Accounting. (Don’t get me wrong: You guys and gals all rock, too!) Let’s see what each department actually does and how it relates to each other.

President / CEO

Not much is needed to be said about this role, other than it comes up with and defines the company’s strategy, and ensures that all decisions and actions are aligned with this said strategy.

Account Manager

The first let’s-get-down-to-business type of interaction between a client and an LSP is with the Account Manager. (Before this step, the Sales team has already secured the client.) The Account Manager is responsible to cater for all client business needs, as well as keep the relationship up and running as smoothly as possible. In other words, he’s the guy that has to spend most of his working—waking?—hours talking on the phone with clients, carefully listening to project requirements, creating cost estimates or quotes, assuring them that everything’s on track and, my all-time favorite, taking the heat when things don’t go so well.

Production Manager

Think of the Production Manager as a maestro, a conductor of an orchestra full of Project Managers (the musicians), and translation projects (the repertoire). He’s responsible for making sure all incoming translation projects are properly assigned to his team of Project Managers, oversees the whole process, steps in when things seem to get problematic to provide advice or assistance, and assures that all projects are delivered on time to the client.

While closely operating with his Project Managers, he or she also provides valuable information to the Account Manager, such as metrics (i.e., word counts, completion time-frames etc.) for cost estimates/quotations, and project-related feedback useful for keeping the client in the loop. Similarly, the Account Manager provides to the Production Manager information and details on potential or newly-acquired projects, and gives him an overall “feeling” of how the clients are holding up.

Vendor Manager

The Vendor Manager (VM) is the go-to person for any Project Manager. This role is responsible for making sure the LSP has all the required human-power at hand, as required per a project’s language and technical specifications. It should be highlighted here that the Vendor Manager deals only with external resources (i.e., freelance translators, reviewers etc.) and is not to be confused with the Human Resources (HR) Manager, who deals with internal resources (aka employees). Given today’s trend of mainly using external vendors for project work, the Vendor Manager plays a crucial role to an LSP’s operation.

This role also takes care of the vendor selection and assessment processes. These tedious activities require experience, a keen eye on detail, and good judgment. Furthermore, a good Vendor Manager always strives to land the best financial deal between vendor and LSP to maximize a project’s profit margins.

Project Managers

Project Managers (PMs) are responsible for handling—you guessed it!—projects. This entails managing project aspects such as:

  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Resources (i.e., translators, reviewers)
  • Workflow
  • Software tools, etc.

Once a Project Manager receives his or her assignment from the Product Manager, he or she starts the process of acquiring all the necessary elements for the proper execution and delivery of the project. First, some calculations are done to find out how many resources will be needed; this number crunching has as parameters the total project’s word count and the final delivery date (aka deadline). (If you want to learn more about the math behind such calculations, go and check out my article Translation Project Resource Planner.)

With the calculations done, the Project Manager now knows how many translators and reviewers he or she will be needing on the project. The Project Manager will then consult the LSP’s Vendor Database and attempt to book the necessary resources. If, for any reason, the Vendor Database cannot provide enough resources, then the Project Manager will inform the Vendor Manager accordingly who, in turn, will seek to recruit the required people.

While the Project Manager is doing all the above, he or she has already sent the project’s files to the LSP’s Translation Engineers for processing and preparation. (We will describe the duties of the Translation Engineer further below.)

When all the resources are finally in place and on standby, the Project Manager handoffs all or parts of the project to the Translation Coordinators (TCs), along with shorter, internal deadlines and information about each part. Around this time, the Translation Coordinators also receive the processed files from the Translation Engineers. The TCs job now is to start assigning each part of the project to the resources. (The following section deals with the TCs and their duties.)

The Project Manager now has to sit back and monitor the project’s workflow, making sure that all parties involved are doing their job as best as possible. At some point, the PM might be notified by a Translation Coordinator or, more seldomly, by a Translation Engineer regarding a potential problem, in which case the PM assesses the situation and decides on the best possible solution.

If all goes well—which, after many hair-pulling situations, it should—the Project Manager will end up with all translatable files delivered to him and, ideally, within the client’s requested deadline. He or she is now able to create the handback package, the invoice, and send them along to the anticipating client.

Translation Coordinators

The Translation Coordinators (TCs) function as assistants to the Project Manager. They are usually internal LSP employees who wish to become—someday—fully fledged Project Managers. You could think of them as mini-PMs, running their own mini-projects. As we’ve mentioned further above, these mini-projects are actually the parts of the main project the PM is handling, and which has assigned to the TCs.

Accordingly, the Translation Coordinators will receive the needed mini-project information from the PM, such as internal deadlines (which are considerably shorter than the client’s deadline, to compensate for the extra tasks required before packaging everything up for delivery to the client), number of required resources (i.e., translators, reviewers etc.) and their contact details, extra information for the resources (i.e., glossaries, terminology lists etc.), as well as the files which the resources will work on (provided by the Translation Engineers).

With all the above information, the TCs will prepare their handoff package for each resource, and monitor the progress from there on. Once each package is completed, the TCs will send the received files back to the Translation Engineers who will do their magic and produce the final deliverable for the client. These finalized files are either sent back to the TC, who will quickly verify them and then forward to his or her PM, or sent directly to the PM for wrapping up.

Translation Engineers

Translation Engineers are a very special type of people: What they usually lack in management skills, they overcompensate with their exquisite technical prowess. Their role is very crucial to a project’s overall smooth progress and final outcome. Their responsibility is to identify, quantify, and extract all translatable content from the client’s files. And this is no small feat, my friends, given the humongous number of file formats out in the wild, each one using its own cryptic structure that requires delicate decrypting or deciphering to get hold of its precious content.

So, once they receive the project files from the Project Manager, they scramble and start doing their magic to produce translation-friendly files. These files are then sent to the Translation Coordinators who, in turn, do the handoffs to the awaiting resources. Once the TCs receive back the translated files, they send them back to the Translation Engineers who will reverse the process to generate the final, fully translated, client files. These are then sent either back to the TC (which checks and forwards them to the PM), or directly to the PM.

Translators & Reviewers

Translators, being part of the resource group, are the guys and gals that do the heavy lifting in terms of translating the content into the required target languages. They have been specifically selected by the Vendor Manager and/or Production Manager based on their background knowledge and expertise on the project’s given subject domain.

Along with their assignment (aka handoff package), they usually receive additional project information such as glossaries, terminology lists, screenshots/images etc., which allows them to better grasp the project’s subject and scope.

Translators retain an open communication channel with the Translation Coordinators, allowing for better monitoring of their assignments’ progress. In case of difficulties, the TCs will step in and escalate the issue as needed. Once translators complete their assignments, they hand them back to the TCs who will forward them to the reviewers for further linguistic checks.

Reviewers are members of the resource group, too, and are responsible for the linguistic quality of the translated content. They receive their assignments (the translators’ delivered files) from the TCs. Reviewers go through the translated material and check it against the provided glossaries and terminology lists, ensuring consistency and that it conforms to the client’s provided language requirements. Of course, this also includes checking language quality. After this process, the reviewers will send back the files to the TCs who will forward them to the Translation Engineers for further processing and finalization.

A Closing Word

This article outlined the structure found at many of today’s top Language Service Providers. To be honest, I’ve oversimplified things, since there are additional roles and processes involved. I’ve chosen to leave them out for now, to avoid information overload. They would make great topics for future articles, so stay tuned…

Petro Dudi avatar
About Petro Dudi
Petro Dudi is an American expat residing the last two decades in Athens, Greece. His professional career revolves around the Translation & Localization Industry for more than 17 years, having translated or project managed numerous projects for tech giants such as Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Adobe, Symantec, GE Energy, Caterpillar, Toshiba, LaCie, Canon, Sony, Nokia, Bosch, Siemens etc. Petro is also the author of "Translation 101: Starting Out As A Translator", and the creator of the "Translation101 Toolkit" software.
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