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With this article we are introducing a new series: case studies. Our aim is to discuss past projects which were particularly challenging or in some way unusual and show you how we approached them. This will allow you to better understand our process of managing translation projects. Perhaps there are even some parallels to your own work and you can take away some helpful points for your own processes.

Our first article in this series focuses on the management of a translation order from one of our regular pharmaceutical clients. We received 44 technical documents with a total scope of 1635 (A4) pages. All documents were sent to us in the form of non-editable PDFs (i.e. the text could not be selected or copied in a PDF reader, such as Adobe Acrobat). The documents also contained some handwritten notes, which partially obscured the printed text. The source documents were primarily written in the German language, with some paragraphs also in English. The client requested translation into Slovenian. They needed the translations in about a month and a half with fairly little flexibility, as the Slovenian translations were the prerequisite for the preparation of important documentation.

This project proved to be challenging for a number of reasons:

  • Large number of documents both in terms of physical and translation pages (nearly 125 thousand words or 595 translation pages), coupled with a tight deadline. A single translator would need approximately 75 (working) days to complete such a project, the process of editing and proofreading would demand an additional 20 days, and our final quality assessment would take at least 3 days. If we were to assign each role to a single person and perform all tasks sequentially, the entire translation process would take approximately five months. Adjustments to the timeline and our usual process were therefore essential.
  • Source documents in a non-selectable PDF format. Prior to sending the documents into translation, we had to employ a team of graphic designers who converted all documents into an editable text format (.docx). This process is crucial for translation, as documents in an editable text format can be used with CAT tools – specialised software for computer-assisted translation (CAT). It allows teams of translators to reach a higher degree of quality, consistency and faster delivery; all of which also help to reduce costs.
  • Translation from two source languages into one target language. The translation project was further complicated by two source languages, used interchangeably within the documents. Most of the text was written in German, with sporadic paragraphs in English. Due to the two source languages being used interchangeably, it made little sense to assign the job to two translators – one for German and one for English. Instead, we employed the same translation team (translator and reviewer) to work on the translation from both source languages.

Let’s see in more detail how we organised the translation project for such a complex order. At Alamma, we always approach challenges from two angles:

  • internally by having our team explore alternative approaches to our regular processes, and
  • externally by discussing potential options and finding solutions in collaboration with our client.

Most of the solutions in one way or another impact at least one side of the iron triangle of project management, which is why we always check our client’s priorities in terms of the timeline, quality, and price of the final product.

Good cooperation with our client and a thoughtful internal restructuring of our translation process allowed us to deliver all translations within two months of the order date – only slightly longer compared to the client’s initial deadline of a month and a half. The translations were prepared in the DOCX format, which allowed the client to tweak the translations if needed (without the use of expensive software for editing PDFs) and to more easily prepare their internal documentation.

How did we do it? We managed to shorten the timeline with the help of certain already established procedures, which we use with most orders. Our principal tool is the use of translation software, which greatly simplifies the translation of repeating sections within and between documents. As mentioned, we found other solutions internally and externally.

  1. First we enquired about the client’s flexibility regarding the deadline. We know from experience that clients typically operate with an “ideal” deadline (which allows time for an internal review of the translations and leaves some time for troubleshooting potential problems or delays) and a “final” deadline (which is the last acceptable deadline with just enough time for the client’s quick internal check of the translations). Our client mentioned that they were in a hurry with only one batch of documents; the other two were less urgent and would only be needed after work is completed on the first batch.
  2. Based on this information, we compiled a priority list of documents. We ensured that all processes – from document conversion and analyses, to translation, revision, and quality assurance checks – began as soon as possible. Team members therefore did not have to wait for one another to finish their part; instead, the individual processes ran concurrently, which resulted in a significantly shortened timeline. When the first batch of translations was being reviewed, the second batch of translations was already in the works, and the third one was being converted.
  3. The priority list and processing in batches allowed the project manager to simultaneously work on checking the translations for quality and formatting. The project manager kept the team of translators up to date about potential issues, which might come up in one of the next batches, saving everyone time and extra work.
  4. In order to meet the requested deadline, we divided the translation work between three translators. At Alamma, we tend not to split a translation project between multiple translators or reviewers, as, in spite of all quality assurance processes such practices almost always impact the quality of translation. At the same time, we are aware that this is sometimes unavoidable, especially when timely delivery of the translations is more important than complete cohesion between individual documents. That was exactly the case with this project; in order to preserve consistency of style and terminology, we had a single reviewer work on the translations of all three translators. We could have also split the revision between several linguists to further speed up the process; however, this would likely have reduced the quality of the translations, which was unacceptable to us.
  5. Our project manager is typically the person responsible for the exchange of documents between the translator and reviewer and for providing help with any issues or questions that may arise. This project’s tight timeline demanded an adjustment to this role from manager to facilitator, where we set up a group conversation between the translators and reviewer. This not only helped optimise the exchange of a large number of documents, but also greatly improved the flow of communication between everyone involved. Our team of translators were able to discuss the use of terminology and consult each other in case of questions or dilemmas. This also meant that the reviewer’s job of standardising terminology across the different translations was made much easier and quicker.

The case study we discussed was an exercise in finding the right balance between delivering the translations on time and maintaining our high level of quality. Even though delivering the translations even faster was entirely possible, we were not willing to sacrifice their accuracy.

One of the key takeaways from this project was the importance of clear and effective communication between all stakeholders in the translation process, especially regular and open communication with the client. We were grateful for their responsiveness and cooperation in answering questions about preferred terminology and their flexibility in finding common ground when it came to juggling their time constraints and our desire to provide a premier quality service.

What is your experience with particularly demanding orders? Share them in the comments below and let’s find common solutions you can use with your language service providers to make your professional relationship even better. Would you like to entrust the translation of your documents to a team of experts who never cut corners when it comes to quality? We are here for you! Send us an enquiry to