Another topic which commonly surfaces in conversations between Adaptive recruiters and translation/localization industry candidates is the difference between life on the ‘vendor’ or ‘supply’ side of the industry vs the ‘client’ or ‘buy’ side. Though we have plenty to say on the topic owing to our years of interaction with both fields, we thought it might be easier to turn the spotlight onto a few examples of candidates who have worked on both sides of the table.
To discuss the difference between Project Management in Language Service on the vendor vs client sides of the industry we spoke with two great examples:
Ben Rouda works as a Senior Localization Specialist at Medtronic, the 3rd-largest medical devices company in the world. Prior to this he worked with Prisma International, an LSP based in Minneapolis.
Colleen Biggs is the Manager of the Translation and Localization Division of Philadelphia-based Language Service Associates. Before joining LSA, Colleen worked for over 10 years on the client side, as a Loc PM with IBM in their speech recognition group and a Loc Test Engineer with Nokia.
What do you find to be the main differences between client-side and vendor-side project management?
Ben: On the vendor side you have more visibility into the inner workings of the projects, and therefore control. On the client side, you give up control into the vendor, but you have more insight into the working of your company (in whatever field that may be).
Since you won’t have the visibility into the vendor you need to do a lot more homework, a lot more process-building. You have to build very close partnerships with your vendors, get clear agreements, vet their processes, etc.
Colleen: I would say on the client side it’s heavily process-driven — there are processes in place that have to be followed. On the LSP side it’s more about tailoring or customizing processes for the client that will match the processes that they already have in place.
On the client side you either can’t change processes or it takes a long time to get them changed, whereas on the LSP side in order to get the business, you need to be able to be really flexible and be able to adapt to whatever process your client needs you to have.
What about similarities?
Ben: In both cases, you’re managing costs, expectations, schedules. You’re always trouble shooting, you’re always educating people. That’s just localization regardless of which side you’re on.
Colleen: There are a lot of similarities as regards having tight turnaround times and having to deliver things by specific release dates. There are similarities in terms of the types of errors you may encounter on the client side and the LSP side, things like mistranslations and quality errors. Project Management is Project Management, you just manage to the expectations of whoever your client is. On the client side you have your own client which is your company.
Do you find there to be differences between the general scope and workflows of projects on either side?
Ben: I think it really varies. There are infinite possibilities. Some clients, for example, barely get involved in what their translation vendor is doing. They just throw it over the fence and trust whatever process the vendor might elect. (Not recommended!)
Other clients will go through everything with a fine tooth comb, “push” the process to the vendor (or work together to build mutually-beneficial processes), conduct independent quality checking, etc.
Colleen: In my client-side role at IBM the team hadn’t done a lot of localization so they were in many ways relying on me to help define what the process should be. The team at Nokia had done a lot of localization, so they would bring the localization team in at the beginning stages of developing a product.
So let’s say they were going to release a new feature on mobile phones, they would actually bring localization in at the point of UI design so that they could get our input at the point of the original English-language design as to what might be some of the challenges in localizing that particular feature for a certain market. A savvy client that has done this type of work before will have a really pre-defined process for bringing the localization team in at inception. So, I’ve seen it happen both ways.
Was it hard to make the transition from vendor to client? What were the biggest changes?
Ben: Not too hard. I’m both client and vendor in my new role, and I think in either case it’s all about partnership and symbiosis. When I was pure vendor, I felt a lot of clients pushed me around, and I think that mentality on the part of “clients” is a big mistake. To get the best from your vendors, you need to nurture the relationship and treat them with respect. If you treat them well, they will look out for you and your company’s needs more than they would if they feel unappreciated.
The biggest change for me was that I no longer felt like I had to do every little thing. It’s great to be able to offload work to trusted partners.
Colleen: When I was on the client side I wasn’t working directly with any linguists, freelance translators or even through an LSP: that was actually done by another division of the company, so I was really on the technical side.
Once I got to be on the LSP side, it was not nearly as technical — so in other words the files would usually come to me the way the client would need to have them back, and so there’s not a lot of technical work to be done. We deal a lot more with tight deadlines and some pretty demanding client requirements. When I was on the client side, we would deal more with developing those requirements.
On the client side, the person that develops the requirements has to have an understanding of how localization works. And on the LSP side, if you have a client who doesn’t have that understanding, then it can be very difficult to meet and manage expectations. So we spend a lot of time on the LSP side educating the client on how localization actually works so that they can make sure they are giving us the right file format or file formats that they are going to be able to use on their end.
Do you find having worked on the vendor-side helpful in your current role?
Ben: Yes! Knowing the ins and outs of how vendors work has proved immensely valuable. It makes it much easier to predict my vendors’ needs, to know what makes their lives easier, and to understand the challenges they face. I try to use that experience to keep them happy.If they’re happy, I’m happy. There’s nothing worse than a failing partnership; it costs tremendous amounts of time and money, and the hangover (in terms of quality issues, for example) can last for years.
Colleen: I think it actually gave me a lot of insight in the sense of understanding why the clients would request certain things in the way that they did. I’d be working with people who would ask “Why does the client want to do it this way? It would be so much easier just to do this, or this…” It helped me with my team to be able to explain why a client might ask for something in a particular way.You also develop a sense of who on the client side has worked in localization before and really understands it and who might benefit from some client education, and most clients are very open to that.Also having worked on the client side gives insight into situations where the client can’t be expected to be adaptable — why the release date can’t change, and how that could impact so many other people’s schedules that are involved in the successful launch of the product.
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