Why company-wide terminology initiatives fail and how to prevent this

July 31, 2013 Hanne Smaadahl

Implementing a terminology management system is not without challenges, but there are ways that you can mitigate the common risk factors associated with terminology management.


When crafting a terminology strategy you want to ensure you account for existing organizational structures, processes and resources.  Implementation of the initial stages of the terminology management strategy is often made without the in-depth gap analysis that is needed to anticipate all possible risks and vulnerabilities. However, keeping some of the most typical risk factors in mind can help avoid surprises that can potentially derail your efforts:


Lack of sponsorship from executives


Management buy-in and understanding of the importance of terminology management to the company’s overall communication strategy is critical. Without a committed sponsorship from key executives, it is impossible to drive a terminology management solution beyond the first few stages. Although supporting translation and content authoring may provide sufficient return on investment, it fails to realize the full potential of terminology management. Secure long-term support by demonstrating the importance of terminology management at all stages in the production cycle.


Lack of buy-in from stakeholders


Terminology management is a collaborative and collective effort. In addition to top-down backing from upper management, a bottom-up support from people on the front lines is crucial. Terminology management is truly successful only when everyone in the company participates. This risk factor is tied to executive sponsorship in that a continuous support and participation from stakeholders is only possible when it is made part of everyone’s formal objectives and performance measurements, or when the behaviour become ingrained in the corporate culture.


Disconnect from product cycle


The lack of buy-in from executives and stakeholders is often a result of a lack of awareness. If terminology management is considered at all, it is often seen as a by-product of translation. The result is that terminology management is disconnected from the product cycle, workflows and processes. New terminology and terminology changes need to be treated with the same care and rigour as you apply to product innovation and improvements. Terminology management needs to be an integral part of the product cycle, from inception to sale.


Competing projects


A complete end-to-end terminology management system needs to be proactive, multi-disciplinary and an integrated part of the business’ activities. The investments needed to make this happen are significant. They include, but are not limited to, the costs of the time and salary of everyone working on terminology, development time (for example customizations to the tool), tools cost (for example licensing and maintenance, the cost of server space and support), and training time. In addition, there can be significant costs associated with duplicate work both in terms of time, tools investments, and resources (servers, disk space), as well as cost associated with errors that occur because there is conflicting information in different locations. If there are parallel or conflicting projects, the progress to managed terminology may slow or halt completely. Mapping out competing projects at an early stage may provide an opportunity to build on and leverage existing efforts.


Insufficient resources or over-promising delivery


Terminology is perishable goods. If terminology data is allowed to go past its expiration date its value will quickly decline among users. Once users have lost trust in the data, adoption rates will drop, the feedback-loop on data entries will slow down, which in turn will cause the data to turn stale. Without sufficient resources for staffing and tools, a terminology project can stagnate and fail to produce the desired return on investment. Quality of data should outweigh quantity, with clearly defined expectations for terminology research, delivery times and data volume. Manage the expectations of all stakeholders from the onset: not only in terms of what you will deliver, but also what is expected of them in return.

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