The Importance of Localizing Project Management Literature

By. Dr. Abdelsalam Jaroshi
GPM Partner – Turkey and North Africaguest-blog
CEO – Diwan International (formerly Libyan Diwan LLC.)
Business Development Director – PMRi Ltd.

As project management is an organization wide practice, the importance of having project management related literature understood and realized all over the organization is an essential factor of achieving project management performance contributed by the organization’s personnel effecting the project delivery success in all related stages.

As most practice and standardization literature is written initially in English, being the most used language in the world, the need for it being available in various local languages has been growing recently, here I will try to tackle the need for such literature in Arabic depending on my own expertise.

Being part of multilingual/multicultural project teams, I was blessed with the opportunity to explore and understand how literature is put into practice, and from this opportunity I was able to realize the importance of having such literature written in local language.

The issues were considerable, as most of implementation obstacles originated from personnel comprehension of literature, especially those who didn’t have proper English proficiency. Taking tangible steps to solve these issues was considered, but the steps were only efforts on a personal level, for instance: I remember my office board (supervising a $1 billion infrastructure/utilities construction project) being crowded with snaps, post-its, little journals, and other explanatory aids that I issued out regularly to the construction site personnel who knew little or no English, just to help them read and understand plans, layouts, designs, schedules, and invoices that were issued by our German contractor, and only a few of our 45 supervision team members managed to read and understand those, simply because it was in English, and in many occasions this was a trigger for a large amount of communication problems.

Bridging the communication gap is one of the most important benefits of having project management literature available in a local language, but again comes the issue, as having literature just translated to another language is not the case here, where any organization can do that, but the idea is having literature that relates to the essence of the original English publication through agreed terminology available to personnel with little to none English.

Some professionals might argue that personnel should have sufficient English knowledge to work in projects, but that is not true, e.g. there is a great chance that a Concrete Workers Supervisor in Yemen doesn’t know English, but the Civil Engineer designing or overseeing them might do. Another case was brought up to my attention is that some workers were recruited outside their country, and they didn’t know how to write nor to read, and they signed their contracts with a mere (X), not knowing what the content of these contracts was (but that’s another story).

Relating to the essence (case):

Most project management publications translated to Arabic by their issuing organizations were translated 100%, using terminology that in most cases is strange to the Arab personnel working in organizations that have the potential to implement the contents of such literature, in addition, those publications neglect connecting terms embedded in definitions and concepts, creating more confusion. Tackling this issue, I came by some examples from literature, where literal term translations from English to Arabic were only understood with an elaborating definition, but if you run the English term by a person who was able to realize the term in Arabic, they won’t be able recognize it. As one of the main pillars of a successful translation work is knowledge transfer and the ability of connecting it to the original script, this way fulfilling the balance of the teach/learn objective, making a text just available in another language won’t achieve that.

Where and what should we translate?

If the text is related to implementation, the text should be available in different languages, but that means definitions and explanations should be translated, with a proper tool of connecting it to the original publication when and wherever possible.

One of the most widely used tools in connecting translated texts to their original publications is having a glossary of terms, as this is used by many professionals, it has been a practice to include a list of terms in the publications original language, and their meaning (opposites widely used) in the language of translation.

Another practice is mentioning opposites in titles and subtitles, and terms embedded within paragraph text, this will provide a direct connection in proper locations of the used terminology.

Translate vs. Localize

Although the media of practice are not only dependent on subject professionals, as organization personnel are beyond them, and most implementation activities depend on field personnel, and those make up at least 70% of an organization’s working force, and in a lot of places more than 50% of those have little to none English knowledge, making the need of having literature (especially project management related) available in local languages grow by the minute. That being said, it is important to have guidelines that govern the way literature is translated, focusing on points of utilization, practicality, and correlation, and this is not just a normal translation process, it is transferring knowledge from one language to another, taking into consideration terminology in use, culture, education, and human factors. Achieving that will create local content based on the original literature.

The Final Layout

If you are a professional working on localizing a standard, guideline, practice, or any type of literature in your industry, you should consider the following:

  • Have a structure that corresponds with the original text, but integrates with the local language community.
  • Refer to terms in the second language’s common terminology, and not literal translation.
  • Connect the original text with the localized publication.
  • Practice and professional reviews are very important to make sure that the new publication will be accepted well amongst practitioners.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

One thought to “The Importance of Localizing Project Management Literature”

  1. As an American with over 25 years experience in South and Eastern Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, and having been the editor of an English to Indonesian (Bahasa Ingris>Bahasa Indonesian) translation of Max Wideman’s “Glossary of Project Management Terms”, I can certainly appreciate the challenges that “Translate vs Localize” presents.

    What we did in Indonesia was not a LITERAL translation but a CONTEXTUAL translation. In other words, we didn’t just interpret the words from English into Indonesia but we translated the context or meaning. Explained another way, if we were to reverse translate the words from Indonesian back into English it probably would make little or no sense yet the meaning of the translated words remained accurate.

    What can be dangerous however is if we start to base certifications around the contextual translations it raises the thorny issue of whether or not a credential earned in two different countries using study materials which have been both translated and localized are those two credentials equivalent? The reason being is no matter how diligent the translators may be, there will always be local nuances which can sometimes change the meanings significantly.

    The solution has been to place a whole lot less emphasis on the ability to pass multiple choice exams and more on requiring those seeking to be certified to demonstrate they not only KNOW and UNDERSTAND the FACTUAL, CONCEPTUAL and PROCEDURAL requirements but also that they CAN and DO apply what they “know and understand” under real life working conditions.

    This is the essence behind the GPM and GPM-m certifications…… So for those who already hold the GPM-b, are you ready to move beyond exam based credentials and demonstrate your COMPETENCY?

    Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, CCP, MScPM, MRICS, GPM-m
    Jakarta, Indonesia

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.