10 Tips for project managers working with non-native speakers Project Management translation jobs
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10 Tips for project managers working with non-native speakers

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Having worked in various project management roles for the past 7 years I have spent a great deal of time working on projects alongside people whose first language has not been the same as mine or the company I have been working for. Such projects that have utilised the skills of a non-native speaker have varied from short translation assignments that have been processed in a few hours to more involved and complex assignments that have taken several months to complete.

The web and digital technology have greatly enhanced the ability of organisations to source workers globally. Many activities that were once only produced on site can now be outsourced at a reduced cost. In many of the developing countries around the world a highly skilled and educated workforce has emerged that is able to provide high levels of quality and service remotely. Couple this dynamic new workforce with the burgeoning number of platforms that allow companies to source the skills of freelancers and external bodies without ever having a face-to-face meeting (and in some cases no verbal communications at all) and you have a situation where anything can be produced anywhere.

This article draws on the experiences I have had working and managing projects that have involved the use of a 3rd party supplier and provides 10 tips for working with suppliers who are non-native speakers. The term non-native speaker is used here from the perspective of the organisation or body buying the services of a third party (the non-native speaker). As most of the organisations I have worked with have been UK based, non-native speaker means that English is not their first language.

Tip 1: Make sure you have all the credentials you would normally have for an internal hire. The process of hiring can now largely be anonymous. But with all that anonymity how can you be sure that the person you are hiring is able to meet the standards you require and will actually be able to deliver on time within budget. It may sound obvious but one of the first mistakes that I’ve seen companies make is to treat the process of hiring an external supplier differently to that of employing someone internally. Making sure you have covered all the same details you would for an internal vacancy such as CV, information on skills and experience and any references is crucial to hiring the right person. Just because their online profile states they are able to do xyz does not necessarily mean xyz is what they will produce for you.

Tip 2: Ask for a free sample of their work. Whether you are looking to have documentation translated or you need a website built – getting a free sample of the proposed supplier’s work can be very beneficial. When requesting a free sample don’t ask for too much, the objective isn’t to get work done for free, but enough to give you a good idea of their work and their quality level. A common approach is to request a sample or ‘test piece’ that you create covering the various requirements of the assignment but in a scaled down version. Any supplier who is serious about their business should be more than happy to provide this.

Tip 3: Be clear in your brief about the requirements of the assignment. Don’t leave the project open to ambiguities. External suppliers and freelancers are professionals and will follow a specific process to meet their objective of fulfilling the project brief. An unclear brief can lead to poor project performance whatever the language. It’s also worth gauging the level of understanding the supplier has of English. If it is limited it may be worth having the brief translated by a professional prior to providing it to the supplier. Thankfully in my experience most non-natives who are employed in the provision of business related services are able to communicate in English.

Tip 4: Make use of all the free digital communication platforms available. Systems such as skype and messager and even microblog sites like twitter are great for communicating with your external supplier. Skype for example gives you the option of either verbally communicating or sending real time text messages. As projects evolve and there are queries, these tools are great for quickly finding out the answer to simple questions.

Tip 5: Speak clearly and slowly. This may sound a little obvious, but in my experience this can really help communications, especially if a lot is done verbally via the telephone. Designers who get excited over their plans and designs seem to be the worst culprits for “speed talking” when they are describing their requirements. It’s worth thinking to yourself as you speak that the person listening is not only internalising what is being said, but also translating from your language to theirs. A general rule is – the slower the better.

Tip 6: Avoid using inter-company terminology or words or phrases not used outside of your country. Some non-native external suppliers may well be aware of the idioms of the English language, but many are not. This is also true to words and phrases that are only used within your organisation. If a knowledge/understanding of these words is important to the project it may well be worthwhile supplying a glossary of words and phrases.

Tip 7: Be polite and courteous. Sadly some organisations treat external suppliers with little respect, and use them purely as a means to an end. In most cases these people are pivotal to the success of the assignment so it’s worth being respectful. Make sure they feel part of the overall team.

Tip 8: Understand where the supplier is coming from. The very nature of their operations often means that external suppliers will work independently and remotely from an office. The communications you have with them may be the only interaction they have during the working day. For some suppliers this may be the reason they work in the field they do, for others it may be slightly lonely and they relish the opportunity of speaking/communicating with you. Again, as with tip 7, be polite and courteous and show interest in them as you would any other work colleague.

Tip 9: Have a central point of contact for the project. If a project is being undertaken by a sole external supplier, to have a myriad of requests from different personnel within your organisation can often cause confusion. It is much better to use one person to head up the conversations with the external supplier to help keep communication uniform and similar.

Tip 10: Outsource the project management. In the long run it can be more cost effective to outsource the project management of your assignment to a 3rd party. A common situation we find at PS is for a client to approach us and ask us to take over the management of their translation requirement, having already spent time and resources working with freelancers directly. Often the reason for making the switch is down to the logistics of managing multiple suppliers and the hassle this has caused them. In many cases it is far better to leave it to an agency that can not only facilitate the management of the suppliers but also provide one central hub for communication, briefing, invoicing etc.



Published - July 2010

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