Organization and staffing for visual novel translations, intro

Project teams start for a very simple reason, there’s something that needs to be done, and it’s too big, complex, daunting for a single person to tackle in the time frame needed. You’re a project team because you’re there to get something do ne, otherwise it’s a social gathering.

Now this doesn’t mean that a project team isn’t a social creature, or can’t over lap with a larger social group, but really, if you’re actually on the team, you should be contributing something to the team completing the goal. Otherwise, you ‘re just hanging on, breathing the air. I suppose for some people, that’s fine. But for me, I subscribe to the sort of philosophy that Skunk Works was founded on. In a sentence, “run lean, get in gear, get out of the way, get the job done.”

Since this topic is so large, I’ll probably have to break this up into many parts. The first thing that I’ll cover is a very broad overview, and in following installments, I’ll focus it down. Today it’s very broad strokes over the general ‘feel’ of a translation team, leaving out a number of (probably important) details.

The many kinds of organizations.

One thing that I’ve noticed repeatedly in life is that there are many people who behave as if there is “one right way to organize groups” . In the extreme, these are the people who will try to make a democratic process, complete with the bureaucracy involved, to manage a 4 person group. Or the groups of <10 that feel a strong need to have a charter and a president, 2 VPs, 3 managers and a mail boy. Thankfully, most people aren’t like this, but the general trend seems to be that way. There’s comfort in bureaucracy.

But really, anyone who’s spent any time working with people should notice that there are different types of organizations to fit different needs. A steering comittee that needs to be very open and accountable for its decisions would have to be organized one way, while a group of campers another. A baseball team has different needs and goals than 5 engineers with a dream.

So before this turns into a long analysis of group organization, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that for fan translation groups, a small, informal/semi-formal complete network of people with one notional leader is more than enough to make up the driving core of a successful project with a little bit of outside help now and again. Are there other ways? Sure, but I like this way becauseit’s clean and straightforward and is how I prefer to work.

First, small. Bigger isn’t always better. For every person you add, that’s one more person who has to be involved in making decisions, assigning tasks etc. Oneof the worst could be scheduling for meetings, or staying in touch to make decisions or something. It’s all extra organizational overhead that takes time away from doing more productive things. To a point, you can’t get around needing a certain number of people, but the number of people you need is often alot less than what you think.

Having a small group has many interesting implications on role composition, communication, and just feel in general. I’ll get to that next time.

Next, informal/semi-formal. This one is probably simple, especially for a small group. You don’t need to an official framework for assigning work for people, or handling issues, you can gasp talk to each other for a few minutes, or listen in on what others are saying, and you’d know enough about what’s going on to make a decision and move on.

Complete. In the graph theory use of the term. Everyone knows everyone else on the project. How else are you going to keep up that informal collaborative atmosphere? There’s only a few of you, so this shouldn’t be a problem. It’s when a group becomes too large to be a complete graph that you start having to need the more formalized structures of organization put in.

One notional leader. Sometimes I have to wonder why so many groups want to “be democratic” about things, is there some kind of social stigma about effective leadership that I don’t know about? A good leader brings together everyone in the team, helps set the purpose, the goals, milestones, etc.. They can hold people accountable for their performance, and makes sure things get done.

Often they’re the person who started up the team and assembled everyone together. Sometimes, someone more capable of managing everyone floats into the position naturally. Either way, it’s not a “title” that you stick next to your name. “Hi, I’m Agi, Leader.” It comes from actions, whether people are willing to go along. This is where the ‘notional’ bit comes in, what I’m getting at is that the position fills itself by actions and can change as needs shift. The leader for thetranslation phase need not be the leader of the editing phase, and need not be the leader of the release phase.

On the other side of the coin, the leader isn’t the absolute despot, if they’re being stupid, someone’s gotta go smack them, if they continue to be stupid, they might have to be removed like anyone else. Leading only works if the ones being led agree to it, so only a stupid leader would ignore the rest of the team’s wishes.

Maybe this is where the people wander off into trying to build a democracy of 5 with majority rule and all. If a leader listens, then it’d probably come to the same result anyways for such a group, without any of that formality.

Finally, all these pieces come together to form the core team. By the old 80/20 rule of management, for any sizable group, 80% of the work is probably coming from 20% of the people. What I’ve been aiming to do with this whole thing is to peel off everyone except the 20%. That’s the “core” team that gets 80% of the work done. Everything else can be gotten by the occasional outside helper. However, these external people aren’t considered to be in the core, they’re not as important from the standpoint of their limited contribution. Often they come in, do their piece, and disappear again without anyone else’s productivity suffering (though you might miss their company).

If you’re dedicated to finishing a project, than it’s the most important to keep the core people happy and productive. Periphery people are nice, but the more effort you expend maintaining them, the less you can do for the core.

Next time, I’ll actually write something practical: idealized roles in visual novel translation projects (Here)


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