The Art of Translation
In theory, the upgrade was so simple. We had to update some settings on the email server to prevent emails from being interpreted as SPAM. Then we could send the email. The email vendor had provided the technical documentation of what needed to be configured. The security engineering team just had to “apply” the settings. What could go wrong?
Lost in translation
As anyone in tech who has ever tried to update anything knows, the details matter. A misplaced space, added full stop or an omitted ; make a big difference. Added to that; critical timelines, different time zones, different cultures, different languages, multiple teams and the very human ability to make mistakes, we have a challenge!
Needless to say 50+ emails later in various languages at various times of the day, and several attempted meetings, we got to a point where everything was set up correctly. The process was painful, the outcome was underwhelming. The senior leadership were unaware there was ever a problem and in the end, the customer got the email, happy days and job done.
‘Can do’ problem solving approach
I am sure any project manager can identify with this, you find yourself in the midst of these conversations. Trying to make two or more groups understand each other, about a technology or product you have limited knowledge of. This is where the art of translation is such a key skill as well as good old-fashioned project management, diplomacy and a healthy dose of humility.
These are my top tips, on how to achieve success.
- Over-communicate and seek to understand the assumptions.
- Never assume the assumptions are correct until confirmed.
- Practice graciousness and humility in communication.
- Summarise and follow up until the problem is solved
Over-communicate and seek to understand the assumptions
Each side thinks they have given such clear instructions and feedback how can anyone not understand? It’s there in black and white you just need to do x,y, z. However, there are often some assumptions that are incorrect like previous settings, customisations or unique business cases. Sometimes it can be as simple as stating what seems to be the obvious to confirm there are no hidden assumptions.
Never assume the assumptions are correct until confirmed
The person providing the settings may not be aware of all the technicalities and in good faith has provided the information. So there needs to be some due diligence to understand what the impact of the proposed changes is. This usually involves a lot of backwards and forwards until all the nuances are understood. This needs a lot of patience from everyone concerned.
Practice graciousness and humility in communication.
This can be the hardest, a quick email can come across as quite terse or aggressive when that was not the intention. Or in the rush to progress the issue, we send an email and forget to include someone or add the attachment. Working in second or third languages and different cultures adds to the complexity. We need to be gracious and forgiving, everyone is trying to do their best and very few people are deliberately trying to be difficult. The time factor is key here which creates pressure especially when we are working across different timezones. There is a small window when all the participants are available that can solve the problem.
Summarise and follow up until resolved
Most people have multiple projects and commitments they are trying to juggle. So, we need to keep good accessible summaries so we bring everyone along on the journey. Everyone needs to understand what is their action and by when. Keeping a good summary also helps with different languages as people can take the time to absorb the requirements and understand what to do next.
The art of translation is the challenge of making technology work in our multi-cultural world. It can only be done by working as a team to make the seemingly impossible and complicated work. It is a fascinating time to deliver projects with the technology and opportunities that we have available to us.
Internally in any organisation, each department or team does not understand the implications of all the changes. The art of translation is about clarifying how the legal chain affects the technical requirements or that small feature improvement that snowballs into a bigger change. This is the fascinating challenge of making technology work for everyone to deliver business value and profitability.