Agile New World

Over the past years, software localization has experienced a major shift from a linear “waterfall” model to an agile/continuous delivery model. In other words, the traditional approach of translating sequential, high volume, complete versions of a product has switched to a series of short, low volume, interval localization working cycles, or “sprints”.

This has altered the localization scene for both freelancers and agencies dramatically. From the localization agencies’ point of view, this shift does not only require changing the internal organizational structure in order to be able to meet the challenges of the new agile localization model, but it also requires changing their entire business mindset and philosophy.

Some of the main challenges raised by agile localization are the following:

  • Scheduling/Planning: Volumes are usually small, but they are also quite unpredictable. There are peaks and lows, but there is hardly ever a concrete schedule on the volumes expected. Upcoming peak periods may be announced, but with little information on actual word counts and exact handoff and delivery dates.
  • Simultaneous tasks: In agile localization different tasks happen simultaneously or with very short interval times. We have moved away from sequential tasks of style guide and glossary/terminology creation, localization, linguistic testing and bug fixing. Now tasks often overlap and even the regular order sometimes gets reversed. Term mining and glossary creation may come after actual localization and bug fixing may occur prior to completing the localization, etc., making each step even more challenging.
  • Short turnaround times: Agile localization requires continuous deliveries with very short turnarounds. In most cases same-day delivery is required, sometimes within just a few hours. In the best-case scenario, a time frame of one or two days is provided.
  • Continuous deliveries: In the agile world of software localization, there is a need to provide undisrupted continuous deliveries. Agencies are requested to ensure continuous workflow, even on public holidays, in order to support the demand for round-the-clock services. This new state of affairs calls for a change in the way teams and schedules are organized.
  • Quality: Fast turnarounds make it difficult to implement all localization steps effectively, as they leave little room for thorough preparation, research and editing of tasks. This of course can have a serious impact on quality.
  • Cost-efficiency: Costs differ dramatically between the traditional and the agile model. The time to record, download, distribute to resources, receive from translators and check and deliver tasks back to the client gets multiplied. This makes the project management cost significantly higher. Different tools, instructions and procedures for each account/client also result in additional effort and time which also translates to additional cost.

In order to deal with these challenges, freelancers and agencies need to readdress their business approach. With deadlines getting shorter and the quality requirements higher, highly flexible administrative skills are required. Meeting the requirements of this new agile world could be dependent on the following key points:

  • Project-dedicated teams: Even though it is hard to have fixed linguistic teams due to lack of heads-ups/predictions on volumes, project-dedicated teams are the key to fast turnarounds, while keeping at the same time high levels of consistency and quality. Teams need to be well trained and fully up-to-date with all project instructions/terminology and related feedback. Setting pre-assigned roles facilitates sharing project knowledge more effectively and the “engine” moves faster and more smoothly, ensuring high- quality results.
  • Automations: One thing that has been proven extremely helpful when dealing with agile requests is project management automations. Investing in the development of enterprise-customized automations is very rewarding. You can save tones of time with automations that read hand-off emails, download files, create records of orders and even prepare CAT packages for you with just one click. They save you considerable file management time so you can focus on the areas that need your “human” attention.
  • CAT tools: Choosing the right CAT tool is essential in order to speed up processes and help ensure consistency. It is preferred to avoid using very complicated or unpopular CAT software that could limit your pool of eligible resources significantly.
  • Appropriate resources: Needless to say, the most suitable resources should be used for each task, but these agile urgent tasks may lead you to look for less expensive, inexperienced linguists that are willing to handle higher volumes on lower rates. Even though this may seem to save you significant costs at first sight, the cost of subsequent editing and managing tasks and the risk of jeopardizing quality make this approach less appealing. Investing on high-quality resources helps to keep your clients satisfied and saves valuable time for your editors and managers.
  • Proactive planning: Lack of heads-ups and concrete scheduling make planning quite difficult, nevertheless, it is essential to plan as proactively as possible in order to meet peak and holiday coverage periods. Offering incentives helps team members to commit themselves more to a schedule.
  • Agile business philosophy: The organizational culture also needs to be adjusted to reflect the values of the agile philosophy. Project teams need to work in a different, more agile way, for instance, there should be more frequent team meetings, higher levels of interaction between team members and more efficient knowledge transfer between team members.
  • Employee empowerment: Devolved decision making. More flexible employees in terms of being able to make a decision on their own so that the process moves forward, without waiting for a manager’s approval every time, which could hinder the agility of the process.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned challenges, agile localization also provides localizers with the opportunity to be involved in real-time product localization. The liaison between localizers and clients gets stronger as they work simultaneously, communicate more and collaborate to decide on terminology and style matters. The dynamic nature of the agile method and the simultaneous stages bridge the gap between product team and end client.

Even though the nature of localization has changed, its core values remain the same: quality translations that meet client requirements and industry standards. If we are to meet these core values, we all need to adjust ourselves to this new agile world.

Katerina Pagkalou,
 Account Manager, ORCO S.A.

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