Scanlation and Teamwork Methodology
a new approach to online team collaborative projects
Posted by tai on Nov 19, 2008 under Discourse, Research, Special

Every person, group, company, territory, has a particular way of doing things. Most of us have our own system on how to handle things. Leaving post-it notes, keeping a PDA of daily to-do lists, putting an elastic band around our wrist, setting random alarms, and so forth, are all ways of getting things done, and help fight against forgetfulness and procrastination. Most likely we don’t even think twice about our personal procedures, but when different people with different methodology start collaborating with each other it is necessary to set guidelines on the exact procedures and protocols for all the tasks involved in the projects at hand.

I’m being hosted under BWYS, a scanlation group: They take Japanese manga (comics), translate it into English, and release it online. My friend is the leader of the group and since they would be animanga fans like I am, I joined their IRC channel for some social while closeting away on my computer. However, I was (and still am) much more into audio/video than illustration; I didn’t really have that much background in manga, especially compared to the members of BWYS who work with manga on a daily basis. But I knew Photoshop well and soon I started typesetting and editing for them, and with that I started learning the specific procedure we go through to prepare a raw file into a final release. Most members, having practiced this methodology for quite some time, don’t have much criticism on the system, but I being newer to the scene have a lot of thoughts on the system we use, from both general-workplace and scanlation viewpoints.

General Workflow

Traditional System

In the traditional system, tasks follow a purely linear process, like a production line. If there are multiple team members, usually each member is in charge of a single task they are highly proficient in. Tasks are almost exclusively linear, meaning that the first task is a prerequisite for the second; the second task is a prerequisite for the third, etc. In a continuous environment, person A does task A on project 1, passes that onto B, then does task A on project 2, passes that onto B; similarly for person B and on. In this typical classic system there are three key shortfalls:

  1. The speed of the group is limited by the slowest step/member
  2. If a member quits, goes on hiatus, or otherwise is not able to continue, all production after that member’s step is stalled.
  3. In the case of the above, since each member is exclusively assigned their own task, it would be hard for them to fill in for the missing step/member.

In a team, all members should be equally valued; however the team should not require any specific member to function. In the case with a classic system, every member is required and it is difficult to even classify this as teamwork.

Proposed Modern System

In this proposed modern system, projects should avoid sequential processes and execute tasks in parallel steps whenever possible. In addition to this, members should not be assigned a specific task but only be given a title depending on their specialty. Tasks would be posted by the group leader and checked out by the members. Since members have specialties but are otherwise free to pick any task, they can develop a broader set of skills and consult each other if assistance is needed. Overall, each person will have a lower efficiency than if they did their own task like in the classic system; however, we avert the shortfalls of the classic system:

  1. Because members are not restricted to a certain task, faster members can work ahead of slower members
  2. Unrestricted tasks allows members to be able to broaden their skills, and as a result
  3. There is no sudden stall in productivity if one member stops.

In Scanlation

The classic linear chain for scanlation requires every member and relies heavily on the leader for communications.

The classic linear chain for scanlation requires every member
and relies heavily on the leader for communications.

Traditional System

In traditional scanlation, we have the following essential roles:

  1. The leader, who will mainly be handling completed tasks and passing them on to the appropriate person;
  2. A scanner, who scans the paper-media manga into a digital format; (or one who downloads or sources files that have already been scanned, likely the leader in such a case)
  3. A translator, who is in charge of translating the Japanese text into coherent English;
    An editor, who cleans and digitally enhances the scans and replaces the Japanese text with the translated English text;
  4. A quality checker, who inspects the grammar and image for consistency, and makes the necessary adjustments; and finally
  5. A distributor, who hosts the file to allow the public to download it.

While this system works, you can see exactly how such a process is prone to the shortfalls of a classic system.

Proposed Modern System

Modern scanlation will take a new approach on how to convert manga to a locally understood digital format. In essence, there are only two roles:

  1. The leader, who will have less of a focus on handling transactions. Instead, s/he will be giving out expertise, providing motivation, and recruiting new members.
  2. The members, who may have certain specialties but are not restricted to that field. For example, a translation specialist may help quality-check should there be the demand.
A modern approach takes the leader out of the parenting position and allows them to guide all the teams formed within the group. There is no exclusive dependency for any one member.

A modern approach takes the leader out of the parenting position and allows them to guide all the teams formed within the group. There is no exclusive dependency for any one member.

The classic tasks Scan, Translate, Edit, QC will be broken down to reduce dependency and redundancy. Members are encouraged to pair up when tackling tasks, preferably a more-experienced member with a less-experienced member.

  • Scan/Source – same as above.
  • Translate – same as above.
  • Translation Check – checking grammar, flow, and coherence.
  • Pre-edit – cleaning up the scanned files, including clearing out the Japanese text.
  • Typeset – entering the proofread translation into the pre-edited files.
  • Quality check – same as in classic system, except grammatical errors should have already been fixed.
  • Distribution – same as above.

Because the leader no longer handles the transactions, the members are responsible for communicating and passing files onto each other. In an ideal situation, if any member (including the leader) should vanish the group should still be able to operate at 100% efficiency due to true teamwork.

Prerequisites for Success

While a new methodology is easily written out, there are many steps required for it to succeed.

  • All members, both existing and newly-recruited, must be familiar with the new methodology. They should understand that the new system is aimed to develop well-rounded members that can handle a wide variety of tasks. One member of 80% proficiency working with a member of 50% proficiency is just as thorough as a single member with 90% proficiency.
  • A developed backbone infrastructure would be optimal for task distribution. An online interface would act like a task library, allowing tasks to be “checked out” and tracked. The system would allow members to know who is working on what project/task and who is free, and could keep an archive of intermediary files in case of data loss or irreversible changes. The leader should always be able to override the system and set priority tasks.
  • The group will thrive only in an open social environment. Because of such intimacy in the new teamwork methodology, it is essential that members know each other well and that communications are instant. Members should know each other well enough to be comfortable meeting up in real life. Online, IRC chat would be the ideal method for group communications; e-mail should only be used as a last resort or for any administrative purposes (passwords, extra-group communications (vs. intra-group), etc.)


Redeveloping a group’s methodology is not an easy task, nor is it something that can be achieved in a short period of time. Leaders should always be open to change, and the change should be evolving slowly but steadily. Right now BWYS is in a transition state, we have started testing a new approach for some of our projects, and we are really starting to emphasize our open social environment especially when considering new recruits. A slow change reduces the change and learning stress on the members, keeping overall proficiency optimal while not losing out like groups which have done things the same way since day one. While it is important to keep up-to-date, it also is important that procedures are habitual and require no second thought. Whilst new methodology may be more efficient, it takes a lot of time for a group to naturally assume the different processes; the key is finding the optimal balance of change and tradition.

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