The so called just-in-time production method is a well known method that was originally developed for manufacturing products in the 1960s in Japan. It was used to reduce inventory costs by creating a continuous flow of materials required for producing goods without having to keep surplus goods and raw materials in storage for a long time because this is costly and the quality of the raw materials kept in storage is likely to deteriorate over time.
This method in its many different versions and permutations has been used in many countries for many decades. (I translated several books from Japanese on Japanese management methods dealing with this production system, that’s how I know about it.)
So I thought it would make sense to ask whether there is also an efficient method for just-in-time production of translations. Unlike perishable products, translations can be kept on a recording medium such as a hard disk indefinitely, which is an advantage that translations have for example over cakes, eggs or sausages. That may be why so many translators do not seem to realize how important it is to supply a translation precisely at the right moment, which means not only not too late, but also not too early.
Timing is everything not only in life, but also when it comes to delivering translations. Moreover, to determine the perfect timing for delivering a translation to a customer at the right, most opportune moment, we have to understand what kind of customer we are dealing with and realize what we know about this customer.
There are two basic types of customers:
- translation agencies and
- direct clients.
Just-in-Time-Delivery to Translation Agencies
While there is a big difference between translation agencies and direct clients and it could plausibly be argued that a translation agency (or an LSP if you like silly, propagandistic and slightly moronic acronyms), is not really a customer, but only an agent, broker, reseller, etc., both translation agencies and direct customers will be considered “clients” for the purposes of my post today.
An inexperienced translator might think that a translation ought to be delivered to a customer as soon as possible once it has been completed and carefully proofread. While this may be a good policy with some customers, it is in my considerable experience of almost 30 years definitely not advisable to apply this policy uniformly and blindly to all customers.
For example, if I translate a patent for a translation agency that I suspect knows nothing about patents, (which happens quite frequently because very few translation agencies know anything about them), I always deliver my masterpiece based on my just-in-time production system, which is to say just before it is due to try to protect myself against ignoramuses.
The reason is simple: the less time a translation agency that “translates all subjects and all languages in any direction” has to try its hand at editing my patent translation, the less chance there is that the translation that is so precious to me and dear to my heart will be inadvertently and quite stupidly butchered beyond recognition, often in the most important passages.
This can easily happen for example when a long patent claim, usually claim 1, is divided by a proofreader into several clauses because a proofreader who may be extremely clear about the crucial and all-important difference between the usage of “which” and “that” and who works part-time for the agency to supplement her meager Social Security Payments does not know that one claim must correspond to one sentence in every patent application in every language, regardless of how ridiculously long such a sentence might be.
After all, if a monster sentence is divided into two sentences, it reads much better and is much easier to follow, isn’t it? It’s a no-brainer!
Of course, many translation agencies, especially inexperienced ones, can kill any kind of translation through their misplaced editing efforts with this kind of kindness and inexpert expertise, and not just patent translations.
If I work for a translation agency that I know well and that I know has a lot of experience with patents, I may normally deliver my translation early, especially if the agency pays quickly … but I don’t do even this very often because other important considerations regarding the just-in-time translation delivery principle still apply.
It is well known that most translators turn out on average two thousand words per working day, including the time required for proofreading, which should be ideally done the next day after a good night’s sleep.
But if the translation agency discovers that unlike most people, you can usually translate three thousand words per day, or even more when the spirit moves you, you may eventually find that your deadlines have suddenly shrunk by an amount of time eerily corresponding exactly to the excess capacity of words that you are able to translate per day. This is of course not desirable, especially in view of the fact that a correspondingly longer period of time would then be made available for potential butchering of what is a very good translation that should definitely not be touched by a translation agency’s novice (cheap) proofreader.
Just-in-Time Delivery to Direct Clients
When we work for a direct client, such as a patent lawyer, other considerations applicable to the general just-in-time translation delivery principle, to which I am personally partial, suddenly become important.
Lawyers are often in a hurry to have important documents available to them ASAP and of course, I am eager to accommodate them by offering a deadline that is as short as possible, let’s say by tackling about three thousand words per working day instead of a mere two thousand.
But since of all people, lawyers know so well that “timing is everything” and “time is money”, I always ask for a significant surcharge for what I call “rush translation”, as opposed to regular turnaround time. Let’s say that on a document that has about ten thousand words, regular turnaround time would be about five days (or six to be on the safe side), while rush turnaround time would be only three days (or four to be on the safe side).
Most of the time, a fiscally prudent direct customer will choose the less expensive option, which is what I prefer anyway because although I make less money, I don’t have to be killing myself working long hours and over the weekend. And if another client hits me at the same time with a real rush translation, I may still have time to fit in a shorter rush translation while I am still able to finish the previous translation within the deadline.
The magic words in determining how long a non-rush translation will take are the words “up to”.
My estimate for the two options that I generally offer to clients (usually only to direct clients because while agencies usually want you to hurry, they don’t want to pay extra for it) would thus look as follows:
Non-rush translation = 10,000 words times x cents per word =X dollars, turnaround time up to 6 working days
Rush translation= 10,000 words times y per word (where y is 40% higher than x)= Y dollars, turnaround time 3 working days
As I have said, the non-rush option is most often selected, which works for me. But when the customer really is in a hurry, it works for me too because I make more money for basically the same work.
Just because I quoted six days does not mean that I will in fact let the customer wait the whole six days every time for the translation. Especially if it is a customer who pays on time and has a lot of work for me, I may send the translation in three or four days instead of six. But I can take the whole six days if I need to do that.
If I need to translate too many documents in a hurry, something that I might not be able to do on my own, the rush rate makes it possible for me to hire other translators to help me to finish a sizable job on time. Unlike many translation agencies, I can actually tell for example which Japanese patents are on the same or a similar subject and which ones were written by the same bengoshi (Japanese patent agent), so I make sure that the same person translates those patents (usually moi) to ensure consistent terminology.
My just-in-time translation delivery method works very well for me most of the time because I designed and developed it as an optimal method for delivery of patent translations and most of the time I translate patents and patent-related documents.
In other words, my method is suitable for patents translations, but that does not necessarily mean that it is equally suitable for other translation fields.
If you have a translation production and delivery method that works best in your translation field, although it differs significantly from mine, I hope you will care enough about your fellow translators to share your ingenious method with them on my silly blog.