Superhero Bootcamp: How Palex Trains its Project Managers

Alexandra Perederey, Tatiana Shuklina, Project Managers
  • Superhero Bootcamp: How Palex Trains its Project Managers

Palex took part in Translation Forum Russia that was held in Moscow in late June. The team presented the new project manager training program that the company implemented in January 2015. The presentation became one of the 7 most useful ones at TFR 2015. We would like to share our experience and hope it will be helpful for other translation companies.

Localization project managers are the face of the company. They stay in close contact with the customer as they have to clearly follow the project instructions, and they cultivate relationships with contractors while remaining fully responsible for project quality, schedule and budget. Project managers have to handle a wide range of tasks in order to keep clients satisfied.

They have to understand both the linguistic and technical aspects of any issue. Here are just a few of the things project managers have to master in order to be successful: the processes and stages of localization, key features of different language families, the quirks of various CAT tools and industry quality standards.

Managers must have a broad range of competencies in order to maintain control of the situation, make informed decisions and manage a large number of specialists. Successful project managers also share certain personal qualities: they are responsible, proactive and able to focus on self-study and self-organization.

Because a good project manager needs to know and be able to do so many things, localization companies are forced to set the bar high for candidates. Maybe a freshly hired project manager doesn’t have to be a superhero in order to manage projects without help and post consistent results, but having a couple of superpowers certainly doesn’t hurt.

Right now, Russia doesn’t have any superhero boot camps. There aren’t any localization project management schools, either. Only 26% of Palex project managers hold university degrees related to management. The vast majority of them have technical backgrounds, with degrees from leading universities in applied mathematics, cybernetics, automation and computer sciences.

None of our project managers had the full range of required knowledge and skills before coming to Palex.

For 13 years, Palex has been trying out different approaches to train project managers. Here is what training looked like until 2015. The PM Department Lead acted as mentor to new hires, presenting them with a list of topics and resources (from the internal knowledge base, the Internet, and their own experience). Hands-on work in the department would start almost immediately: new hires were assigned to managers who would help them get up to speed. This approach had a number of limitations. New hires learned mainly from their own experience, so it took an average of at least one year to master all the required skills and expertise. Because the PM Department Lead was responsible for training all new hires, no more than three managers could be trained at one time, even though the company's need for experts was significantly higher. It was also difficult to assess new project managers on their ability to act independently and make informed decisions in any situation. This led Palex to the idea of developing a new training program.

The program is designed to last three months and consists of two sections: general information and project management. Each section includes a number of sub-sections, containing both theoretical and practical information.

 

Steps of the New PM Training Program

1st section: General Information 2nd section: Project Management
  1. About the company
  2. Localization basics
  3. Industry standards
  4. Production processes: training period in the translation department, the DTP department and the quality control department
  1. Incoming requests analysis
  2. Sales policy
  3. Negotiations with the client
  4. Financial literacy
  5. Project management methodologies
  6. Working with resources

 

The new training program is based on five principles that reflect experience Palex has gained over the years.

1. The program is each new manager’s first project

At the beginning, the new hire receives the program with all the resources necessary for successful training from his or her mentor (an experienced Palex project manager). The program contains clearly structured sections and subsections with a list of articles from the internal knowledge base and external sources, test questions and practical tasks, as well as a recommended time frame for completing each section. New hires can approach their mentors or experts at any time if help is needed. Note that it is the trainee, not the mentor, who plans the schedule for each section, sets up his or her consultations with company experts, schedules test points for theoretical questions and practical tasks, and records the outcome of meetings with experts.

2. Training a new PM is a system

Our previous training program put the focus on the trainees and on their awareness and desire to learn. Many things had to be learned by trial and error. The new program is structured so that it is not only easier for new hires to navigate, but also easier to apply the accumulated knowledge as they proceed through the training from section to section. At each stage, the trainee receives feedback from the mentor and other experts and can adjust his or her individual plan and dedicate more attention to those areas where he or she has insufficient understanding. At the same time, the trainee also learns such principles of project management as planning, time- and risk management. This approach allows the future project manager to master new material at a convenient pace and also to monitor the dynamics of his or her own development. It allows the mentor to decide whether or not the candidate is suitable for high-stress project management work.

3. Practice makes perfect

Internships across the company’s production departments help beginners understand how the different processes flow and how much time they can take. They also learn what information each type of specialist needs in order to complete a task, so that in the future they will be better able to organize those tasks. Department trainings also help new hires establish good working relationships across company departments before they start managing actual projects.

4. Our company is a team

The program includes a lot of sub-sections, with experts available for each of them. Each new project manager is trained by a team of specialists from across the company. This helps new hires integrate quickly into the team and absorb the corporate culture and its values.

5. Training is a justifiable investment

The company used to ask new project managers to pick up real projects on day one. Now they have to get through almost the entire training program before they go live. The company provides all necessary resources for a new employee’s development, and this significantly increases the likelihood that the individual will possess sufficient knowledge and skills by the end of the trial period and avoid making serious mistakes.

This table shows the difference between the programs, their results and possibilities.

 

Comparison of Palex Project Manager Training Programs
  Previous program New program
Mentor PM Department Lead Team Lead
Number of trainees Up to 3 people Up to 6 people (in theory, up to 10)
Period months months
Body of knowledge ● Localization field, industry terminology
● Industry technologies and trends
● CAT tools
● Language groups and their characteristics
● Quality assurance methods
● Cross-cultural communications
● Business communications
● Localization field, industry terminology
● Industry technologies and trends
● CAT tools
● Language groups and their characteristics
● Basic company processes, project stages
● Quality control methods
● Industry and company standards
● Quality management system
● Sales policy
● Cross-cultural communications
● Business communications
Work format Range of information Project
Sources ● Internal knowledge base
● Communication with PM Department Lead
● Internal knowledge base
● Meetings with experts
● Communication with mentor
● Communication with PM Department Lead
Practice Technical tools, business correspondence Practical training in the production departments, analysis, presentations, organization of meetings, business correspondence
Work in the dept. After 1–2 weeks After 1–1.5 months
Testing Theory test meetings, interviews with PM Department Lead, final examination Section test meetings with experts (11 meetings), midterm examination, final examination

 

The new training program has made it possible to increase both the volume of information presented to new hires and the number of future project managers undergoing training at the same time. It is worth mentioning that the new program also includes more practical tasks that are as close as possible to real situations encountered by project managers. This gives the new hire a whole team of experts to work with at different stages of the training program. Once they complete the program, project managers only have to consult with their mentors when unusual situations arise. According to our calculations, newcomers make almost four times fewer errors than employees trained under the previous program. When we increased the number of test meetings, it became easier for our experts to determine whether a new hire would be a good fit for the role of project manager as early as the general information stage.

In late 2014 and early 2015, all new managers underwent translation projects quality management testing. The testing included both theoretical and practical questions. As shown in the graphs below, managers trained using the new program proved to have better mastery than those who completed the old program. The difference between the average scores was substantial. It should also be noted that after the new program was introduced, candidates’ test results were about the same, indicating that the program provides a higher and more predictable level of knowledge.

The new training program for project managers was created in-house and is improved using feedback from trainees. In the future, the company may recruit a qualified training practitioner to bring useful elements into the training system. The company also plans to adapt the training materials from the internal knowledge base to make them easier to understand. Based on the positive results of the project manager training program, Palex plans to use it as the basis for creating a unified training system throughout the company.

Photos by shutterstock and Eugeniy Pankratiev | Illustrations by Vitaliy Ivlev

 

← Back To Blog