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January 4, 2017

Translation (Project) Management Systems Myth Debunked

If You Likey, Spread the love, Y'All

This is a post about the main tools you use in your Translation Agency to operate at higher level. Tools that are supposed to streamline operations, assure quicker work, save time in administration and make project management easier and more controllable. 

Is it TMS or TPMS? Which is it?

​There are many definitions on what a Translation Management System is, or a Translation Project Management System is. As much as I wanted to find a good one, there was nothing really satisfactory on the Internet. I mean, a definition that makes a distinction between these two terms and clearly explains what do these two do.

Let me give you an example, the translationzone.com site (owned by SDL) is giving the following definition/explanation: ​

A Translation Management System (TMS) manages the flow of global content through the localization process, including translation, the sharing of linguistic data and the application of reusable content via workflow automation according to business rules and project information held in its knowledge base. Information is tracked through every step in the translation process whether using internal or external resources.

This pretty much makes sense, however I think it doesn't necessarily has to be used only for localization processes. People and companies who work "simple" translation also need a system like this.

On the other side, you will see every SaaS vendor calling it's product a TMS regardless of which part of the process it is really supposed to support.

Many online CAT tool providers, such as memsource call their systems translation management systems, or at least are trying to push it trough as one. In Memsource's defence, they did integrate a lot of project management tools that are needed.

Others, such as MemoQ (owned by Kilgray) are creating their own version of TMS. Theirs is called Language Terminal.​ Not very powerful, but if you are a freelance translator or work in a group of couple of freelancers it could be helpful.

And to top it all, there are confusions about the proper terminology even within our industry and the technologists within. For example, Kirt Vashee in his blog states Memosource and MemoQ are both TMS systems. I beg to differ, but with so much confusion, it's hard to be totally clear on it.​

To me, a good TMS stands for following: an exceptional Workflow Management and Automation Tool boosted to the level of mind-boggling insanity with:  

  • Project Management features, such as risk management, planning, project costs etc.
  • Project Coordination features, such as CAT analysis, files sharing between translators, managers, vendors, clients
  • Quality Assessment features, for vendors, clients, projects, etc. 
  • Translation Agency Management features, such ​as overall financial data, financial planning
  • Vendor Management features, call it HR department if you like.

Good #TMS is an automated workflow management system boosted with project and vendor mgmt, and company financials. #l10n #t9n #xl8

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There is a minimal difference between Translation Management System and Translation Project Management System.

At least in my mind, TMS is more of a platform. It's this big tool that integrates all the applications and has trillion steps. It integrates it's own CAT tool, own invoicing, CRM, Sales support, Ticketing, Marketing machinery, e-mails, File Systems, everything you can imagine. It's the complete package. Yet, there is no such thing available on the market, at least not for money we mortals can afford.

On the other hand, TPMS is a tool created to help daily operations of a smaller agency. It is particularly helpful to Owners of Translation Agencies and the Project Managers working on the tasks. It has the necessary modules, obviously, projects, vendors, clients, and some financials (maybe invoicing and some cost and revenue tracking). 

It doesn't have built in CAT tools, CRM features, Marketing modules, Sales modules etc. because it rather uses integration with third party software in order to achieve more flexibility.

It is more focused on the daily operations of the Company (Translation Agency), and its processes, than on being a collaborative translation tool.​ It integrates with third party software providers (such as the mentioned MemoQ or Memsource) and by not putting the vote next to any of the CAT tools, it has more flexibility on choosing one, or another, or both. 

This kind of freedom of choice  is very important to us, especially because our customers are small companies who usually have to work with a lot of different CAT tools, depending on their current customers.​

myths and facts about translation management systems

How does such a system work?

Most of these systems rely on the standard task-based translation agency business model. I'm not saying it is wrong, but very often it is more complex than that. 

While for your customer it is plain and simple, they asked for a "good translation" of their website, your workflow might look something like this: 

  • creating a terminology list and a glossary
  • creating a style guide
  • assigning appropriate vendors
  • translation
  • editing
  • testing
  • proofreading
  • returning material to customer
  • invoicing customers / paying resources
  • ... etc

​This is just an example, it can go deeper, can be more complex, or more simple. The possibilities are endless. What's more to it: often these tasks overlap, you have 60% translation done and already 25% of editing done, people wait for other people to finish, etc. etc. 

A good TMS or ​TPMS call it as you wish, will help you or your team of Project Managers, Coordinators, Translators, Editors and File Handlers to organize the whole thing without losing too much time on useless, repetitive tasks, without doing the same thing twice, and always being well informed about the status of the project.

​The system might automatically assign people to tasks, inform them about new requirements, changes, new deadlines, etc.

It could manage files, sending out, getting them back, informing the PMs, even Clients... 

And all this is done in a documented way. If there is a task you did 3 years ago but you have it in your system, then you will be able to find it again easily, check your notes, and maybe use some of the things you learned there to better manage a new project from the same client. 

Especially so, if you have saved the translation memory from their previous job (and if you didn't that would be a big mistake), when you can just re-use it, and offer better, more competitive price to your clients, while preserving the ​legacy terminology and style of their initial translation.

It's one of the most powerful ways to persuade your client to stay with you: explaining them that they can save a ton of money if they work with people who are already familiar with their material, and use CAT tools to reduce costs of translation in the first place. ​

Who can benefit the most out of TMS?​

​What I see is that most people are thinking either they don't need it (meh!), or they know they need it but didn't find a suitable solution yet. We at miniTPMS want to make a system that works for the latter.

The owners of small translation agencies, or even freelancers who sometimes outsource work are the one's who can benefit the most from miniTPMS.

It could also work for larger companies, corporate localization departments. However with the big companies there is often much integration with other systems, SAP for example. That might present a problem if the TMS has to be able to communicate with the company's other applications.

Honestly, I'm not sure even the two biggest systems (XTRF and Plunet) have that kind of modules, but since they do have a lot of other stuff it might be possible.

Anyway, back to the point: biggest benefit of this kind of system is that you can clearly define top priorities (for you or your customer), without the need to work 24/7 (plus overtime 😉 ). You're saving time on tracking, management, administration, billings and chasing unpaid invoices, and you can use all that time to manage your people and serve your customers better.

In conclusion, a translation company of any ​size, that deals with daily projects from several customers and works into several languages, will definitely prosper with using a TMS. 

Do You need a translation management system?​

​Again, this is personal and subjective to your own company, but here's a little check-list that might help you decide. If you ever: 

  • Forgot to send translation back on time
  • Forgot to send a document to translation
  • Lost track of what is going on some project
  • Got overwhelmed with the numbers of different projects you need to manage
  • Mixed up projects, vendors, languages when replying to your customers query
  • Chased a customer for an unpaid bill
  • Chased an un-invoiced task from your translator
  • Went crazy when the spreadsheet application crashed and you lost 3 hours of work and data
  • Wanted to have a step-by-step workflow that all your colleagues will follow
  • Lost a backup of the list of all your translators
  • Thought you are wasting time creating invoices and POs manually
  • Forgot the name of your best XX to YY translator
  • Searched for hours through thousand of e-mail messages to find project data from last year (or three years ago)
  • Couldn't find that backup disk with customer finances when you needed it the most
  • Forgot to inform all your colleagues, translators, editors, about an important change on the project you were working on... 

Then you definitely need a TMS system for your company!​

Unless you enjoy those tedious tasks. Then you don't need it.​

Is it better if a TMS has a translation environment integrated?

We already talked about this a little. Now it's time to go in deeper.

Personally I don't think that built-in CAT tool is good for everybody.

There are, of course, agencies who work for end clients only and have their preferred tool to work with. In this case, it makes sense to chose one tool and use it exclusively. The translators will get used to it, the Project Managers too, and there is less overhead than in companies ​in which you need to pick the proper CAT tool every time new project arrives.

On the other side, for small companies who work with several different clients, or maybe have a corporate ​client who has their own preferred CAT tool, the built-in tool loses its purpose. In such case, you need a more scalable, more customizeable management system that doesn't lock you up with only one tool, but rather tries to integrate its data and workflows with the right CAT for each project.

This is the strategy we use, based on personal experience and some of our VIP customers. ​

Who are the Main TMS providers?​

​It's true that miniTPMS is not the only translation project management system available on the market. So are all the others merely competitors fighting for the same group of people? You might think of it like that, but I don't believe that this is the case.

MiniTPMS is different in the sense that it is targeted more at companies who do work both for end clients and bigger LSPs. Our main goal is to automate everything that can be automated, and to create a system users will love to be a part of.

There is no such thing as the b​est TMS in the world (that would be too easy, right?). The only point You should consider is wether it is the best for You and Your needs. 

If for some God-forsaken reason you decide not to like miniTPMS, here's a short list with ("pretty much an educated guess") ​on what are the other usable systems out there. I have marked my personal liking of them with stars 1-5 and written also what I consider to be the best and the worst thing in it.

Note that I was never using any of these systems, only watched videos (sometimes that's enough), and also, I don't get a dime if you actually state you hate miniTPMS and go with any of these guys below. ​Maybe I should ask them? Anyway, off you go: 

Link: plunet.com

Company: Plunet GmbH, Würzburg, Germany

Best Thing: it is one of those Goliath systems used by bigger agencies and corporate translation departments. If you need a robust system, a la German way (don't expect too much fancy shiny stuff here), and you have a ton of money, this is one of the good solutions for you.

Worst Thing: I don't like the look-n-feel of it. It looks like it came from 1998 when Geocities.com was still a thing. Or you know, when yahoo links were considered a huge innovation.

​Conclusion: I find it too complex and too traditional. It's the Volkswagen of TMS-es. Good, reliable, but more suitable for a middle-aged dentist with a boring life. For huge projects they might be good. But I'm not completely convinced. Also, why isn't there any price list on their site? What's with all that secrecy, yo?

Link: xtrf.eu

Company: XTRF Management Systems Sp. z o.o., Krakow, Poland

Best Thing: another biggish system, pretty expensive too, not sure why am I telling it as a good thing (well, maybe good for me). Anyway. They have a sexy User Interface, and a lot of valuable information can be stored. Automation features seem like a good start, but again I'm not totally convinced. The workflow part seems like a very good thing, though.

Worst Thing: I don't like the bidding system they use for finding vendors (though we will implement something similar into miniTPMS). I also think there is too much clicking to create one simple project. And okay, let's state it clear here too that the price is really high. You won't find it on their site, though. Again, secret. Why?

​Conclusion: For people who like good UI they look pretty fancy. .

Link: quahill.com

Company: I have no idea, they don't put it on their site (which is lame, if you ask me)

Best Thing: I am in trouble here. I want to say good things but nothing comes to mind, so, well, I will try: it seems like something that has a ton of features. A TON. Like, more than you'll ever need. So that might be good if you want features. It also has a ton of pricing models, and another ton of delivery models. They thought about everything. 

Worst Thing: By trying to think about everything, they made everything look exceptionally complicated. I don't want to spend 3 months learning what does what feature do. Also, the lookey-lookey of this thing is not to my liking, especially because it looks like it is still 2001. And in their videos I have seen so many possibilities of entering the project wrongly (non-intentional errors while creating projects), that I dismissed it immediately. 

​Conclusion: Not that it won't do the job, but by the time you decide what you need, which download or SaaS or renting model, and what are the real features of this system, you'll probably fall asleep. Also, their "pre-Windows-8" look-a-like webpage dashboard something. Well. I don't know. 

​One important thing, all these systems (above and below) like to emphasize very basic features like it's the best damn thing after Wi-Fi and Sliced Bread. It's crazy. I mean, we do it to 🙂 What a world we are living in, right? 

Link: www.projetex.com

Company: Advanced International Translation, Kiev, Ukraine

​Note: they have a gazillion other products too, all translation industry related!

Best Thing: I have heard about a ton of freelance happy users, so I guess they must do something right. It supposedly has everything you need (but not what we need), and if you are a freelancer, this might be the solution for you.

Worst Thing: Personally I am against installing software on my machine in post 2012 era. It's just not reliable. Stuff get broken, stolen, databases get corrupted. There's just no need for that. Also, their pricing might seem okayish at the beginning, but for more users it is just too expensive. It looks old and too complicated and too without compromises. Kind of like your grandma. We're in the 2017, we need simple stuff. Like Facebook, and Snapchat. And google. What not.

​Conclusion: Too windows-95-like, too packed. Too much for me. But hey, who am I to judge, right? If you love it, go for it. 

​Ok, enough for now - I promise there will be a bigger list on the blog soon (there is just too much of software like this out there), but for now, let's be happy with these four.

How does miniTPMS compare to these?

Now you got me. You can say: at least those up there EXIST, while miniTPMS is just a thought (for now). Well, that's true. But soon, soon, or maybe it exists already? Check it out in our mailin', yo!

I like to believe that we're creating something more useful and more special, but I'm also a realist. There is no such thing as "one size fits all" because if it were, one of the Pepsi and CocaCola companies would be broke by now. And they both are not. I think they are just fine.

It is because people are different, and have different needs and while one likes product A, the other will like product B. There might not be a measurable difference between the two (obviously, for many products there is), it could be just something small. A button. Or a philosophy. The unbearable coolness of the owner (cough-cough!) Or something completely out of the league. 

The point is, I'm not trying to compete with the same approach, for the same people, who (somehow always) complain that the TMS systems out there just don't do what needs to be done. Or does it in a way that is just too complicated. For them.​


All the above mentioned is why we are creating miniTPMS with a different approach. Having in mind the small agency owners who are ready to grow, but just don't have the organized structure to scale up their business. And of course, don't want to sell their kidneys on buying an extremely expensive TMS.

If you are not happy with the current translation management system, the list above can help you maybe choose the best for you. I don't believe that miniTPMS is suitable for everybody, but it is of course up to you to decide what you want.

Bottom line: once you did your research, it's pretty easy to decide which system is the best for you and your company.

It would make me and my team extremely happy if it's miniTPMS, but it is understandable that there might be something else that fits Your business better (do let us know why, though!).​

Conclusion: to Invest or Not?

Only you can decide in which direction your company will go. You can decide what is important and what is not. And if you already know you don't need T(P)MS then you probably don't. Or you are just wrong and won't admit it. Doesn't really matter. 

With miniTPMS we are not really trying to persuade people into buying, investing, in something that they don't want. To me it's pretty much a counterproductive approach.

Many people won't understand the necessity of all the benefits from a systems like this, and that is fine.

Those who don't need automation, don't want to use history search​ on past projects, don't want exact data on their vendors and clients, jobs done, money made, expenses they have... those who are happy chasing invoices by writing down a calendar reminder in their little black book, they won't budge and will maybe - or maybe not - use Excel tables to generate at least some kind of reports.

They'll never be completely in charge of their own business, though.

​The other group who just gets it, who know they are in a slight mess with all the data floating around but none of it being structured. Who are sick of writing their invoices manually. Who want to work less each month on their boring administrative tasks and don't mind "buying" their own time, those are the like-minded agency owners who we want to help. 

Those who understand that for a small monthly ​fee they can "buy" days of free time each month, those will see their companies rise to the new level.

Help us finish miniTPMS faster by becoming an early adopterClick here to find out how to do that, and maybe get some serious discount possibilities! (subject to some also very serious cowboy and sheriff criteria matters, like sheriffness, and cowboyship. And many other non existent words)

If You Likey, Spread the love, Y'All

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  1. The TPM vs TMS distinction has been originally made by Common Sense Advisory and from what I can see you have not really made this any clearer. Plunet has a close partnership with MemoQ and Memsource specifically because they do different things. Though I do agree that the lines between these systems are often hard to understand for anybody who is not an active user.

    1. Hi Kirt, I’ll try to find out what CSA says about this, to be honest I didn’t find it yet (though I have been following them for like 10 years, but hey, I might have skipped couple of things they said in the past) 🙂

      As I said in the article, to me, the TMS systems are the complex “all-in-one” solutions with tons of built in features, maybe Wordbee would be the best example? They have their own CAT + all the management stuff too.

      And TPMS is basically what Plunet is (it is much more than that, just as XTRF), so they use third party integration (MemoQ, SDL Trados, Memsource, etc) for the CAT part, because they don’t have one of their own.

      And yes, the line is thin, very thin, so we are all just alone wondering in the sea of Translation and Localization and hopelessly trying to find “Nemo” (replace Nemo with whatever we are looking for).


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