Project management is a crucial discipline for any business, especially those in the technology sector. Software companies, for example, are challenged to roll out new products on increasingly aggressive timelines, and so effective project management is critical to ensure that a final product — one that has been fully vetted and tested — makes it to market on deadline.
It’s difficult enough to keep pace when going to market domestically, and the pressure only increases when companies begin to test international waters. But economic factors are making foreign markets required destinations for many more businesses.
Corporations have identified a number of emerging markets across Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East as prime targets for international expansion. Digital commerce in India is projected to grow by a whopping 70% this year, according to technology research and advisory company Gartner. Brazil is the king of the Latin American eCommerce market and trails only China in terms of rapid global growth, while estimates from a report by payment solutions provider PayFort predict online sales in the Middle East will reach $15 billion in 2015.
Businesses are reading the tea leaves and making plans to expand in anticipation of these growth trends, but success in an international market is highly dependent on execution. A 2015 global digital marketing report by Razorfish, called “Digital Dopamine,” shows that consumers in Brazil and China are dependent on technology, eager to engage with new gadgets, but also highly demanding of their digital experiences, for instance. If a new business fails to make a good first impression in either of these countries, among many others, it will be tough trying to tap these increasingly competitive markets.
Localization can make or break a business’ entrance into new foreign markets. In a hurry to expand and seize international customer bases, organizations also cannot afford to rush the localization process, nor waste time on drawn-out or tedious projects.
Effective localization project management is the best way to ensure companies can translate core content, including product interfaces, software code, copy and more, in a way that is linguistically and technically accurate, on time and on budget.
A well-structured localization team is headed by a lead localization manager, who stands atop an otherwise flatly structured group of native-speaking translators with appropriate technical or vertical knowledge.
The localization manager reports directly to the client, working with the business to chart the overarching plan and report progress. He or she also determines the rules of engagement between translators and the client’s key creative personnel, which may include marketers, designers or programmers.
The lead manager can also identify the best translation talent for the job. In-country, native speakers with varied backgrounds, whether in research, software development, graphic design or sales, can offer the most appropriate support for a particular job.
Metrics can also reveal opportunities for a more efficient or effective localization process. Localization managers could consider tracking two sets of metrics: production return on investment (ROI) and business ROI.
Production ROI, which may include metrics such as cost per word, cost per page, time-to-market and much more, tracks how efficient the localization team is in completing its work. With these figures in hand, the lead manager can evaluate ways to make projects run better in the future.
Business ROI demonstrates the value that translated content offers to revenue or market share after the localization project is completed. Here, you might compare localized product sales versus nonlocalized product sales, or estimate the value of new market share compared to the cost of the localization project, among many other metrics. Ultimately, the objective is to demonstrate how the project yielded real business benefits.
When good localization
projects go bad
With one manager driving the team and ensuring plan execution from start to finish, a business can steer around the pitfalls of poor project management, which include repetitive work and unnecessary frustration, and maximize the international business opportunity localization can create. After all, according to research by Common Sense Advisory, 72% of consumers worldwide say they prefer to purchase products in their native tongue.
The hallmarks of a poorly managed localization project are fairly consistent: frustrated remote translators who find it impossible to decipher inscrutable technical language, annoyed engineers or marketers with a distaste for having to retread over previous development or copywriting work to incorporate new languages, and ultimately, a disjointed or incomplete product that is irrelevant or poorly understood by its intended users.
These are challenges that stem from ineffective project management. It’s what happens when a localization agency passes a single client from one project manager to another every few months — objectives change, deadlines are missed and plans are diverted.
It’s the effect of relying on remote, nonnative translators who are not able to work side-by-side with the people who actually create the content being translated, and who don’t grasp the technical nuances of the client’s vertical market.
It’s also what happens when the translation process is left to be an afterthought — something that is only considered after the English-language product manuals or software applications have already been completed.
Bad localization projects happen when plans aren’t developed, context is ignored and the translation and content creation processes are poorly aligned.
Paying attention to details
Localization may seem like a fairly straightforward process: simply take this content and translate it into a new language. But once you’re required to work with different content formats and consider cultural nuances, you realize that attention to detail is a crucial part of any translation project. The solution is to set the table ahead of time, accounting for potential roadblocks before they occur.
Eric Michielli, database administrator at the weather forecasting service AccuWeather, claimed a well-designed localization process helped the company enter new international markets. AccuWeather embarked on an ambitious project to localize its website and mobile apps with tailored content, user interfaces and sourcing for a number of new countries.
To avoid missing any important details, the lead localization manager first sought insight from AccuWeather executives, marketers and engineers in an initial project planning session, said Michielli.
By picking the brains of these weather experts and applying their own knowledge of application design and local language context, translators were able to anticipate obstacles that could have otherwise tripped up the project.
For example, in some parts of the world, it’s not enough to simply say it will be “hot” outside. That forecast would need to be clarified with relative terms to describe humidity and other factors that a local user would understand.
Similarly, foreign alphabets can complicate mobile and web design. Saying there is a “chance for a flurry” in English translates to “prawdopodobieństwo lekkich opadów” in Polish — a much larger phrase that might not fit elegantly on a mobile interface.
With these details acknowledged from the start, the project manager was able to design a proactive localization plan that avoided costly development delays and ensured that a better product reached local customers. Whether it was source code, copy or user interfaces, translators were available to offer context and clarity to engineers as they actively developed localized content in more than 50 languages.
“The key to effective localization is a clear design process,” Michielli explained. “Our team is working together to tailor the products we’re working on now through a turnkey planning, assessment, translation and activation process that is producing a superior user experience across digital platforms and devices by country.”
Context is king
Context involves not only terminology, but also the timing, reasoning and visual cues we rely on to derive meaning from language. By ignoring these factors during the localization process, project managers risk confusing users.
Gene Hall, manager of information development at Stratus Technologies, explained that his company’s software, which alerts users to IT systems availability problems, relies heavily on context. Notifications tell users if anything is wrong with their operations, and are, naturally, meaningless if misunderstood.
“This is a style of help that isn’t displayed like a book,” Hall said. “All of the documentation is on the website, like traditional support, but there are elements such as alerts and warnings that were built right into the interface that also had to be translated.”
The project required technical expertise and an understanding of how particular imagery, terminology and interface elements would be interpreted by users in different countries.
Critically, the initiative also included a quality assurance phase. Translators tested the product in each native language to verify that each alert displayed the correct copy and imagery, and that the notifications ultimately made contextual sense. It was a major advantage for the Stratus team, which was assured that its localized product would make it to market with accurate information.
Context can also be lost when terms are over-translated, which is why project managers should set the table by defining the words that will be used to describe certain concepts and ensuring only approved terms are used consistently. For example, when localizing a product manual for a “smartphone,” translators should avoid interchanging similar but different terms such as “mobile device,” or brand names such as “iPhone,” to limit confusion.
Everything in sync
Project managers must also consider the working relationship between translators and content creators, and how their pace of work affects deliverables. Ultimately, everything must be in sync to ensure a localized manual, application or website hits the market by deadline.
David Lett, director of product localization and internationalization, SuccessFactors, an SAP company, described the challenges that can arise when projects aren’t properly synced with product deadlines. The human capital management software provider ships a new product update in 40 different languages every three months, and up to 78,000 key software values and 400,000 words of interface copy must be localized each quarter.
Complicating matters for SuccessFactors was an emerging process gap — as translators worked to localize all that content, software developers were continually making new updates, meaning parts of the product could not be translated in time for release. Up to a quarter of the localized content each quarter remained in English, said Lett.
To close this gap, project managers needed to develop a process in which translators could actively localize content even as the product was being updated by engineers. The solution was a staggered multidrop, multiple-delivery strategy.
“We started delivering five different drops of content to the localization team, and they would deliver the files twice,” Lett says. “That allowed them to start translating the code about six weeks before they had access to the finalized content.”
The system meant translators would receive the final drop of content three weeks before general launch, with a turnaround time of two weeks. However, since most of the product had already been localized as a result of the first four drops, the final delivery was relatively easy to make.
Automation also turned this quarterly translation project into a more streamlined process. SuccessFactors’ strategy is one example of a creative solution localization project managers must develop to help companies meet demanding content delivery deadlines.
Planning a smarter project
A well-designed localization plan can make a big difference in helping project managers anticipate and address difficulties and meet delivery objectives. However, a plan is only as good as its execution, and successful translation relies heavily on a team of native translators who understand the material they are working with and can provide the context needed to deliver accurate content.
Project managers should think holistically about localization. Involve all relevant members of the process in the planning phase and talk through potential pitfalls and stumbling blocks. Think creatively about ways to change processes or workflow to support effective translations. Finally, include a verification process to ensure that when your content reaches its final destination, it will be both easily read and understood.