Managing Your Localization Career: Project Management


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“Expect the best, plan for the worst,
and prepare to be surprised.”
– Denis Waitley

Project Management is at the heart of all localization work. The transformation of content and information from one language to another or from one language to many requires a formalized structure to keep everything organized and a team of people with a wide variety of talents and skills to pull it all off. A project manager is responsible for organizing everyone and everything involved.

Projects in the industry can vary dramatically. They could be as simple as translating a small text file or line of code or as complex as localizing a multimedia software suite with staggered global releases and custom configurations. Projects can be text or graphical, video or audio, or be a combination of a number of technical formats. The subject matter can be digital, governmental, literary, legal, industrial, academic or… well you get the picture. Most things can be localized. Even menus.

Even though the projects themselves can be different, the method of managing a localization project is more or less the same across the board. A project manager has to understand the requirements and respond accordingly.

When scoping a localization project, a project manager will consider several questions like:

  • How big is the project?
  • How many languages are required?
  • How many words are there?
  • What are the file formats?
  • Are there any translation memories or previous translations?
  • How about glossaries or terminology resources?

The project manager will also need to think about the team they will put together to get the project completed. They will consider things like:

  • What kinds of resources and team members will we need?
  • Will we need translators and other language professionals? How many? Who should we reach out to?
  • What about technical staff? Localization engineers? QA professionals? How many people should we line up and what will we have them do?
  • Do we need any specialized talent like voice over or graphic designers or MT professionals? Who do we need and how many of them?

Once the general scope and the team are planned, other important details need to be defined around schedule and budget, like:

  • What are our timelines and our deadlines? Do we have enough time to do everything that is required? If not, how will we make the schedule work?
  • What is our budget? Is it set, or will we go out to bid and build the budget ourselves? How will we handle shortfalls or any misalignment?

And finally the project manager will get down to business and think about how to get everything done

  • Will we work within a workflow system? Which one? How will it be configured?
  • How will we manage our communications? Will we have status meetings and reports? How frequently? Who should be involved?
  • What about managing issues and risks?
  • Who are our stakeholders and partners? When will we involve them?
  • How will we measure success?
How does someone get into localization project management?

The good news is that project management is one of the more popular entry points into the localization industry. Many companies are open to training project managers by allowing them to start small or work closely with more experienced people and work their way up.

There are several localization project management programs offered by university and training partners that can teach someone about this position and what it entails. These programs tend to hold a lot of credibility with localization employers because they are specialized.

What kind of experience or skills should I have?

Project managers are excellent organizers and coordinators. They work with a lot of people and keep a lot of moving parts and details in order. It is a position ideally suited for sociable people who are used to communicating with a lot of different people pretty much all the time. They are most successful when they keep a view of the big picture and the end goal, while maintaining keen attention to detail. They have to solve complex problems and make decisions. Everyone on their teams look to them for answers. Having the ability to negotiate, persuade, and keep things in line is also essential.

Who might find localization project management challenging?

People who have problems dealing in complexity or shifts and changes without warning will have a hard time in project management. Localization projects are complicated, and nothing runs smoothly or as planned. The projects require a lot of adaptation and troubleshooting along the way. If you don’t like presenting or communicating with many people you might not like this role. If you don’t like to tell people what they need to do and when they need to do it, this role might be uncomfortable. If you prefer to focus on one thing and work in a solitary and concentrated way, localization project management may not be for you.

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