Localization Workflow for Product Managers
Product Managers in expanding international companies can often be thrown in at the deep end when it comes to adapting products for new overseas audiences.
Without a designated internal ‘localization’ function, responsibility for ensuring the quality and market readiness of products for new geo-linguistic regions can be thrown around like a hot potato from one department to another, often settling with the product team who holds overall ownership for product design, functionality and user experience.
Tasked with successfully launching products into markets representing vast new international revenue potential, Product Managers who own localization responsibility can be under pressure to deliver in an area outside their field of core competency.
But while product leaders are not usually language specialists, entrusting the localization process to the people who work most closely with the product itself can have some important benefits – as long as the process is supported by a clear workflow which keeps all stakeholders on the same page.
If you’re a Product Manager who’s been thrust into the hot seat – don’t panic! Here’s our guide to building a cohesive localization workflow that helps everyone stay aligned, ensuring no surprises, gaps or miscommunications.
People, planning and the Product Manager
Who is involved in each stage of the project, and in what capacity?
The first step in developing a localization workflow is to draw up a comprehensive list of everyone who is connected to each stage of the project.
This can often be longer than first expected, but it’s important to understand who will be impacted or have an interest in the way products are adapted for new linguistic markets.
A workflow which doesn’t take into account the full range of project stakeholders can result in key people unavailable when needed, or time lost to updating unexpected groups who request information or changes to deadlines, processes or budgets.
Your map of people to include in your workflow might cover:
- Core team
People who will have direct involvement in the localization process, such as developers, UX/UI teams, marketers, content authors etc.
- Wider team
People impacted by the localization of products who need to be informed and aware of project progress, but have no hands-on role in the process, e.g. sales teams, IT support, customer service etc.
- Core team
- Localization vendor
Your external agency handling the bulk of localization and translation work
- Other suppliers
Business partners and suppliers who will be affected by products being launched into new locales, potentially including designers, marketing agencies, in-country distributors, legal counsel etc.
- Localization vendor
What frequency and style of communication is required for each group?
Not every group of stakeholders will need updating or briefing as often on project progress, so it helps to establish a cadence and structure for communication broken down by group.
Those closest to the project will likely need regular collaborative meetings with detailed agendas, while peripheral stakeholders may be adequately informed with a monthly summary or notification of key deadlines.
Communication plans may include:
- Kick off session
Who needs to be present when presenting the workflow, goals, tools, budgets, responsibilities and deadlines?
- Bulletin updates
What should blanket communiques include, and how often should they be sent?
- Scheduled meetings
What will be the fixed or recurring meeting timetable for each hands on project group?
What platforms or channels will be used to deliver communication?
Just as with communication frequency, choosing the right channel to share and exchange information is also critical.
- Will large email chains be clunky and unmanageable, and will key information be missed or overlooked?
- Will complex project management schedules built inside specialist tools such as Monday, Trello or Asana get the necessary engagement from those only loosely linked to the project?
- Do chosen communication platforms allow for efficient responses and commentary?
- Are dedicated conversation forums such as Slack channels better suited to certain project teams?
Processes and Product Managers
Before your product can be translated for foreign language users, workflows should include a pre-launch phase known as ‘internationalization’.
Your localization vendor will be able to support you in planning this step, which centres around readying the product for efficient adaptation into new languages before the process kicks off.
Internationalization identifies and remedies any easily visible design obstacles in the way of translating a product – such as ensuring that digital product interfaces (e.g. buttons, dropdowns and icons) can accommodate longer or shorter text in translated languages, or work with foreign alphabet characters.
Some of the many important steps of internationalization involve:
- Separating text from code
Extracting translatable content from source code to provide to translation teams
- Context annotation
Individual words and fragments of language can be difficult or impossible to translate accurately without context, e.g. should ‘exit’ in English be translated as a noun (‘an exit’) a verb (‘to exit’) or a command (‘exit!’)? Adding context as needed gives translators guidelines to ensure accuracy.
- Currencies, symbols and formats
Can screens and interfaces display foreign currencies, alphanumeric characters and other formats?
- UX / UI impact
Will lengthening or shortening product content have a negative impact on user experience or interface functionality?
- Regulation and legislation
Are there any product features which are not compatible with laws and restrictions in new target markets, or additional security or compliance measures which will need to be added?
Before getting going with a project, there are a number of things which can be shared with your localization vendor that help simplify the process and accelerate project completion.
Listing these out in advance gives you time to prepare materials, ultimately leading to a shorter time to market in new target regions.
On your list may be:
- Style guides
A style guide provides rules or guidance for translators on how to ensure consistency in tone and style when creating foreign language adaptations of source materials. This is especially helpful when multiple translators may be working across different areas of a large project.
- Brand guides
Brand guides look at wider corporate identity, giving translators context within which to create target language materials harmonious with company tone and image.
- Terminologies and glossaries
These equip translators with an index of pre approved translations for specific terms, phrases or technical language.
- Product information
Helping translators understand what a product is and how it functions ensures they have the necessary functional context to ensure accurate translation.
- TM files / existing translated content
If your business has translated content previously, this may be stored in Translation Memory files and made available to translators. If no TM files exist, then any previous translations can guide translators to producing new content in synch with existing materials.
Developing a project schedule sets the key deadlines and milestones which will keep localization on track, and results in a timely launch in new markets.
Getting scheduling right can be tricky, but there are several best practices which help ensure agendas are realistic and built around real world data. Creating a project schedule which is nothing more than a hopeful sketch is a recipe for frustration and delays, so anchoring your plan with tangible markers is critical.
To guide schedule development, it can be help to consider:
- Working backwards from key dates
Target product launches, feature or version releases or major updates provide built-in deadlines that preliminary steps can be designed around. Having these fixed goals ensures localization initiatives don’t become open-ended projects with no clear objective.
- Involving all stakeholder groups
Scheduling can’t be done in isolation. Localization often involves cross disciplinary collaboration, and other teams will have other projects and priories to juggle. Making sure that bandwidth is available as needed across all participating groups (both internally and externally) helps minimise surprises and delays.
- Anticipating bottlenecks
Your localization vendor’s experience of managing similar projects can help you to spot likely bottlenecks and holdups in your process, either creating workaround solutions or building additional buffer time into your calendar to make sure these don’t derail overall timelines.
- Ensuring executive support
Having the sign off from senior corporate leadership can be a crucial resource for ensuring that wider teams adhere to their assigned deadlines and commitments. Leading localization projects without the right support from your company’s upper tiers can be challenging, and buy in from the appropriate management groups offers an additional level to pull if needed to get everything over the line on time.
The tools supporting your localization process play a key role in shaping the design of your overall workflow.
Although the right technology will significantly accelerate overall project delivery, time must be factored in for selecting and configuring tools, as well as potentially providing any necessary training to project team members.
The core stack of tools in your process may feature:
- Project Management platform
- Localization toolkit
Project Management platform
Your core Project Management tool will provide the framework for planning and monitoring project delivery. Implementing the right platform involves a balance of functionality and ease of use – choosing a system which has the capability to effectively drive your localization process forward, but is also simple for team members to get to grips with and consequently generates strong engagement.
A tool which is comprehensive in the features department but leaves intended users confused or disengaged can be a major misstep, as project data may not be logged accurately or frequently enough to get the benefit of the software.
One of the main decisions to be made is whether to use a general purpose project management tool (which your company may already use in other areas, and as such might be familiar to your teams), or to opt for a localization specific platform. Known as Translation Management Systems (TMS), these purpose-built platforms are designed specifically to handle localization projects, anticipating all of the common workflow steps and collaboration features required.
Together with the PM backbone of your localization project, additional technology will help the translation process and improve speed and quality levels.
The most widely used translation tools include:
- Translation Memory
TM systems improve translation consistency and reduce project costs by creating a repository of previously translated content. If only some of your product content is ‘new’, with the rest having been translated in the past, TM systems will detect the updated content and ensure only this is distributed to translation teams and included in project pricing. TM systems are especially useful for product updates, new version releases and other incremental developments.
- Machine Translation
Deciding whether machine translation is right for your project is an important decision, taking into account budget, timeframe, target audience and the type of content being translated. Where MT can work well for large volumes of functional text where style and branding is of lower priority, brand centric promotional content or user interface projects usually require expert human adaptation. Your localization vendor will be able to advise if and where machine translation may fit your project needs.
- Terminology Management and glossaries
These provide technical guidance to translation teams for how to handle specific words, phrases, slogans or acronyms within your original or source content. Presenting this information via a dedicated software system ensures that databases can be modified and adjusted, and collaborative translation teams around the world can work coherently from a shared and continually updated resource.
Quality Assurance for Product Managers
The final workflow step to define is quality assurance – a comprehensive process for testing your localized product to ensure it reads, feels and operates as though produced natively in the target market.
Quality Assurance is a critical piece of the localization puzzle and a robust testing framework should be developed to explore and approve every aspect of the localized materials.
When it comes to quality assurance, it can help to focus on:
- Cost vs risk
Keeping the testing portion of your localization process to a minimum can reduce overall project expenditure and accelerates time to market, but these savings must be offset against the potential risk of a hurried or superficial quality assurance process.
Rolling out a mistranslated, glitchy or bug ridden product can have far more serious brand and financial consequences than the additional time and investment required to ensure thorough testing.
- Linguistic testing
This phase of the quality assurance process looks at the accuracy of translations, ensuring that your localized product feels natural to native users and that communication is clear and effective.
- Localization testing
Building on linguistic testing, localization checks that non linguistic factors (such as date formats, characters, currencies etc.) have been correctly adapted, as well as ensuring that tone and cultural references are accurate for the target locale.
- Functional testing
As well as checking the accuracy of translation work, thorough quality assurance also checks that products operate error free in their localized form. This means checking every screen, drop down option, link, button and functionality of the product from end to end.