Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce: Enterprise Translation, Big Kahuna

by Translation Guy on October 31, 2011

Talk doesn’t get cheaper than when it comes to talking translation best practice. So that’s why I’m not too concerned about baring my secret sauce which makes 1-800-Translate’s alphabet soup the tastiest in the translation business.

In my first post in the “secret sauce” series I talked about how you got to measure to manage. Next we talked about the chopsticks of translation, the one fool-proof method to make sure translations are good. This time we talk about how to make it happen, which is where it gets hard. Quality is always hard. I think it runs against human nature, as in the future always comes with a discount. Not thinking about a bad outcome is a lot more fun than thinking about it, so it is in our nature to avoid quality problems until the lack of quality is staring us in the face of a law suit. Sounds like we need a three-step process. Changing work practices can be hard. You may need to introduce a workflow solution one step at a time. The main idea here is to help people find their own path to best practice. You do this by encouraging them to get better results.

But first you need facts and figures. You have to learn about current translation practices in your organization before you change them.

Step One: To begin, ask staff to complete a survey. You want to find out how people are doing their translations now. Your questions should include:

  • Who is asking for translations?
  • What content needs to be translated?
  • Who is translating content? For example, are bilingual co-workers acting as translators? Is staff using online machine translation systems? If so, what systems? And which contractors are making translations?
  • What is staff not translating? This may be hard to judge. But it’s important to find out why staff is not translating certain content that should be translated.
  • What, in the opinion of staff, is good and bad about current translation practices? These opinions can identify areas of best practice you may not be aware of.
  • How much is translation costing? The costs should include translations of projects handled by contractors and internally.

Step Two: When you have the survey answers, you’ll know the strengths and weaknesses of your translation process. You can use this knowledge to develop a language management strategy. The strategy should aim to:

  • Cut costs.
  • Reduce the time it takes to translate a document.
  • Increase response and delivery times.
  • Improve quality assurance by promoting best practice.
  • Improve communication about language management within your organization.
  • Cut the translation cost both internally and externally while boosting quality.

Step Three: This strategy feeds into a further aspect of language management: a process and technology strategy. Such a strategy must match your needs. However, its basic elements include:

  • The management of translation traffic into and out of your organization.
  • A regularly updated translation memory.
  • A machine translation policy.
  • An approved glossary and style guide, with a process for updating both.
  • A user feedback loop. This is vital for continuous improvement. You can use a simple one-question survey, and when the survey highlights a problem, you follow it up.

Keep Things Simple: These step-by-step pointers are useful but need context. A complete revision of a translation process can lead to problems. Instead, you may prefer to use new technology to improve your current system.

Overall, the type of language management plan to use should be simple and flexible. Your aim is to cut duplication, save money and guarantee quality. Stick to the plan, and you should achieve all three goals.

So now my secret sauce is not quite the secret it once was. So it’s only right that I acknowledge the giants whose shoulders I stand on (all the better to copy). Uwe Muegge, Peter Reynolds, Bob Donaldson and Jost Zetsche have been my go-to guys on getting to a practice that is demonstratively superior to that of my competitors, although I take most of the credit myself. But seriously, these guys are da bomb when it comes to enterprise implementations, and this is a good chance for me to acknowledge their talents and contributions over the years.

This post series was adapted from a number of implementation we’ve developed for some of our clients. Every situation is unique, and I think this kind of planning is the part of the business I like best. So give me a call at 1-800-872-6752 x208 if you want to discuss enterprise translation. But not if you’re a vendor.


  1. So true. Knowing the facts about your own company is vital to keep it competitive. It’s also important to know when the business is at globally as well and then compare your company to the current trends out there.

  2. Rick York says:

    Very impressive. It looks as if you have put in your time and created a very good system to put you ahead of the competitors – or at least very proud of your work.

  3. I also recommend that if a change is need to do it in pieces. Change one thing and get it right. Go to the next thing and get that right. Do one at a time and them work on getting it all to work well together.

  4. Emma Griffin says:

    Step two is what I live by. Cutting costs for me, my clients, and reducing the time to complete the job is an ongoing goal for me. When things get more efficient I don’t rest I keep trying to get better and I keep motivating my workers to do the same.

  5. Not sure if quality runs “against” human nature – only because I have worked with a few that only care about doing the job well. But with today’s business world, and the way schools allow kids to slack off, I certainly don’t think that quality is at the top of the list for most employee’s around the world. “A paycheck is a paycheck and why work harder if I get the same pay – or – why spend more time on something if it reduces my overall workload.” An unfortunate reality.

    • Ken says:

      Well, Betsy, Rome was always going to hell in a handbasket, and finally, it did!

      These kids today, don’t get me started. One might ask the question, Who will take this message to Garcia?

  6. Wow – you make things seem so easy. I know that if I tried this I would probably end up doing worse than I am now. I guess figuring out where I am at and what my company needs is the place to start. I think I might make up a survey and have all 4 of us fill it out and then we can sit down together and discuss what’s what.

  7. There is no clear cut fix for any translation company. It takes time and perserverence to whittle down the areas that need to be revised. Today, improving technology is as good a place to start as any. Maybe that is all it takes.

  8. Word Ninja says:

    You really need to take your methods around the world and fix everyone’s translation processes. I have seen way too many bad translations over the years by business and goverernments that one would think are just unacceptable.

  9. The most important thing from this blog (yes, I know that quality is job one) is the survey. You can’t get better if you don’t know where you are at to begin with.

    • Ken says:

      “You can’t get better if you don’t know where you are at to begin with.” To be carved in stone. I’d ship you a copy, but frankly the freight for monumental sculpture is killer. Do you have a loading dock?

  10. Quality always seemes to be compromised to save time. Glad to see you don’t.

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