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Getting Started with Localization: The Minimum Viable Team

As a business leader thinking about going global, your focus may be on translating a web page or tech manual that you want to make available in a new market. Ad hoc translation is a start, but as you grow globally you will need to step back to look at your translation and localization strategy in a larger context. To grow with localization, you will have to set up efficient, cost-effective, and reliable processes from the beginning. This all starts with the right team.

Tyson Shelley, Language Network’s Director of Localization, has worked in the localization industry for nearly 2 decades. Throughout that time, he’s helped localization teams navigate from fully manual to heavily automated processes. As Zoom’s localization lead during the COVID pandemic, he helped get their program up and running quickly. To Tyson, successful localization depends largely on the people managing it.  We interviewed Tyson to tap his insight about setting up an effective localization team.

LN: What should companies that are just starting out with localization do first?

TS: Step one should be getting a headcount approved for a localization manager or coordinator. But first, you have to help people understand why you need to staff for localization in the first place. But when a business is just beginning with localization, they’re not quite thinking about it that way. At the start, many businesses just start ordering localization projects in a way that’s transactional. This is often a decentralized, ad hoc approach. But businesses could get a lot more efficiency if they managed localization internally, in a centralized way, through a localization manager or coordinator. 

LN: Tell me more about that first hire. What kind of a role is this?

TS: Your first hire should be a Localization Manager as an individual contributor who can build a team under them at the right time. This person will begin by building localization processes and operations, but at the same time, they need to define a plan to staff for growth. This will involve putting together a business case for new roles that will be required to justify those hires to the organization. Think about not just hiring an IC Localization Manager but hiring somebody who’s going to hire those future roles and then be able to run that team as a leader.

When you hire that first Localization Manager, you need to think holistically about the organization’s needs. That person will initially handle a lot—web, product localization, support content—but as you continue to grow, you will need to separate those roles into specific separate functions. Essentially, it’s important to think about the organization’s structure and future needs, as well as a career development path for localization hires from the outset. 

LN: What should you look for in a localization manager?

TS: You want to start with an experienced Subject Matter Expert who is also able to communicate effectively with executives and convey the messages they need to hear to move the business forward.

Localization is an art and a science. People often see it as an art, but the science behind all of that—the technology, the workflow, and connecting the dots for scalability—is a lot. So, you need somebody who understands all of that, who knows how to negotiate within that arena, and can get those contracts done.

Also, when you're starting a localization function, a lot of people don't understand it. The ROI isn’t proven yet, so that person needs to educate and evangelize. That was really my experience at Zoom, especially during the first six months. Of course, the company grew then exploded during the pandemic and evangelizing became a constant need with all of the new hires coming in.

LN: What do companies often misunderstand about localization?

TS:  Businesses often know they have to go global but aren’t yet mature in terms of localization knowledge, program structure, processes, and technology. Business leaders often know a lot about international business, but they don't necessarily know the intricacies and nuances of localization, so they can have an unclear understanding of what localization is and how to role it out.

In her book, Nataly Kelly points out essentially that localization and global readiness are two separate things. Global readiness involves the preparation needed to legally do business in a country (regulatory, legal, etc). Just being able to do business in a country is a precursor to actual deep localization.

LN: After the localization manager, what other roles should businesses be looking to fill on a localization team?

TS: After getting a Localization Manager in place, a business should hire a Localization Project Manager to own specific content types and partner with other orgs to work upstream of requests. 

Then, they would want to add a quality manager because it’s difficult for project managers to truly own the quality component. It requires a specialist. It is time consuming and involves working with multiple team members internally and externally. Managing all those relationships, the conversations, and dialing in what quality means for your organization is a full-time job. This doesn’t mean there weren’t quality controls in place before, but when volumes increase someone needs to oversee a proactive method of catching issues, manage localization assets, and manage vendors and in-country staff. That person will build quality processes and frameworks, define standards, and implement tools that support the strategy. 

Then there should be a language manager per language who would replace or offload the work from in-country staff who handled the job while the program was scaling. This role partners closely with in-country teams to ensure they're becoming experts in the content and product to enable them to make the best possible language decisions. They set goals and metrics and provide continual reporting on quality as well as recruit, train, and assess new employees in the required languages. 

The next role would be a technology manager to handle translation memory, CAT tools, and MT/AI translation.

LN: In which department should the localization team sit?

TS: Localization can fit in different places depending on the type of business and its immediate goals. For example, if your most immediate goals are around brand awareness, then you probably want to hire localization experts within your marketing organization. 

But wherever the local function fits, it has to work cross departmentally. For example, the localization department must collaborate and communicate closely with sales, product marketing, and content marketing.  

The benefit of cross-functional engagement between Localization and other departments is huge. It empowers businesses to drive uniform and consistent messaging, and it creates a lot of efficiencies. The best gift a hiring manager can give you as a newly onboarded Localization Manager tasked with building a Localization organization from the ground up is to make lots of introductions across teams and help them begin to evangelize and collaborate.

As Tyson illustrates, localization is a complex process that touches every part of a business, and it must be strategically executed. Acknowledging this and putting a minimally viable, cross-functional team in place is the first step toward building an effective and efficient localization program. Additional hires in the areas of quality, language, and technology can be made as the program grows and as the company proves the value of localization.  

Contact the experts at Language Network to discuss implementing a localization strategy that includes hiring key team members.

About Language Network

Language Network is a language solutions company specializing in interpretation, translation, and localization services for government, healthcare, and international businesses. Language Network provides critical language access and support in over 200 languages. For more information, visit www.languagenetworkusa.com.

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