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You Need a Translator on Your Project Team

All projects have one thing in common, a communication gap between the visionary and the creator. Visionaries come in many forms. They may be an innovator, a department head, or a line of business. They are the ones who determine the scope of a project. Creators come in many forms too: small teams, whole organizations, or an individual. They take the scope as defined by the visionary and complete the required work to make it a reality.

Visionaries and creators are two different parties. They have different rolls in their organizations, and different skill sets. They are different in how they view their environments and approach their work. Because of this there exists a communication gap between them.

The communication gap on projects results in products or deliverables being produced by the creators that don’t match the intent of the visionaries. Countless hours of rework or do-overs are then required to remedy this problem resulting in blown budgets and time delays.

Matt (the visionary) found himself in this situation when he contracted with a company to overhaul his landscaping. He met with the owner of the company (the creator) for eight hours and explained what he was envisioning. The owner quoted a price and time schedule. Matt gave his OK and work began the following month. Two thirds of the way through the project Matt, to his dismay, began seeing the finished product. Yes there were pathways, trees, shrubs, grass, a water fall, and gazebo, but they were not what he had envisioned. Instead of curved pathways they were straight, instead of a mixture of tall and short bushes they were all the same height, and instead of the waterfall having four falls there were only two. Work stopped, meetings were conducted, more money was requested and when they were all finished it was the middle of fall instead of summer.

This is where the role of a translator comes in. Professional translators bridge communication gaps by knowing both parties’ langue, understand their unique cultures, and are able to express both the verbal and non-verbal components of a message. Translators on project teams are those who understand both the world of the visionary and the creator. They have knowledge that aids them in taking the message of the visionary and expressing it to the creator through different means so they understand what was originally intended. Translators also communicate the cold details as well as the warm impressions.

In the software industry, the role of the translator has been formalized into the business analyst (BA) who uses a whole suite of processes and tools to succeed in their role.  The following story illustrates this nicely:

Alexis was the point person for a small group of her peers in the customer service center of her company. To date, they had very little technologically enabled tools for conducting their jobs. Budget had been set aside for a project to develop a system that would allow them to better serve their customers. When it was time to start the project the company’s IT department assigned a business analyst to their project team. The BA held multiple meetings with Alexis and her team. Then the BA produced several documents and diagrams for their review. Alexis was surprised by the level of detail and determination the BA showed in making sure every nuance of the final product’s nature was addressed. In fact, at times it became annoying to her as she just wanted the IT department to start working on the project. But, when all was said and done the end product replicated all of Alexis’ and her team’s vision for their customer support tool.

Translators have a unique role during projects. Many project leaders try to satisfy this role themselves or allocate it to a less than capable person. This is not a good idea as it’s not about just knowing the langue of both parties. Understanding both environments and noticing the spoken and un-spoken components of a message are equally important. Plus, the bigger the communication gap the more experience at translating is required.

On your next project pay attention to how big the communications gap is between the visionary and your team. The bigger the gap the harder you will have to work to find the right translator. It’s like being overseas. You don’t want to think you are ordering chicken and find out you ordered the rat eyes.

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