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The Challenges of Agile Localization

By: Amr Zaki (Saudisoft) - Saudisoft Co. Ltd.

06 September 2013

There are many challenges inherent in meeting the changing translation and localization needs of clients producing software using Agile; but with the right technology and the right approach to resources and workflow, these challenges can be met successfully. 

More and more software companies are adopting Agile development methodologies in an effort to have truly global product launches that ship simultaneously in multiple languages. Consequently, decision makers at localization companies are being forced to adapt their traditional business models. There are many challenges inherent in meeting the changing translation and localization needs of clients producing software using Agile; but with the right technology and the right approach to resources and workflow, these challenges can be met successfully.

Unlike the traditional "Waterfall" method, Agile Localization means that localization is no longer treated as a separate milestone which comes within the product development cycle. (See figures 1 and 2, below.) It is present during all product phases like design, coding, and testing. The result is that localization requests become more frequent and volumes can be unpredictable. Additionally, shorter turn-around times (TATs) are required to align with release dates.

Figure 1: The Agile Model

Figure 2: The Waterfall Model

Agile models require all stakeholders to change their mindset to support the fast pace of release cycles. The old model of localization was based on charging minimum fees for small word volumes to cover project management and localization costs. However, with the agile model, a new cost structure needs to be created based on the cost of project management and engineering instead of the cost of minimum word count.

Agile software development has many advantages for localization providers. These include:

  • Close daily interaction between all stakeholders. (This will require a paradigm shift for both localization and software industries.)
  • Increase in the efficiency of project managers and localization engineers by reducing the wait time between hand off and hand back.

While Agile localization is poised to be a savior in software Agile development, it has some challenges which include:

  • Limited Volume: In the Agile model, the software cycle is short and the word count is very limited which reduces revenue for localization vendors.
  • Fast Turnaround: Even when the volume is limited and managed, the turnaround time can be too fast. The impact on the resources of localization vendors can be too great.
  • Localization Quality: Software companies are delivering localized products to their customers. Customers can only appreciate the localization quality of the product while they may not appreciate the fast turnaround. To deliver quality localization, time is required for the language quality process which is hard to achieve within the limited localization cycle.
  • Distribution: MLVs who manage multiple languages within different time zones find it challenging to achieve fast turnaround for multiple languages in different countries.
  • Resources: In the Agile model, localization vendors have to allocate large amounts of resources to be utilized in a short time. This approach is a challenge when receiving multiple tasks at the same time. (Not to mention the effect on cost of the Agile localization cycle compared with the regular mode.) For in-country SLVs*, it can be difficult to find reliable resources who can be online for many hours during the day.

These challenges are not insurmountable. Here are some of the strategies localization vendors will need to adopt in order to meet the Agile model:

  • Plan localization sprints effectively to avoid any delays within the workflow.
  • Gain expertise in the products used to automate hand off and hand back.
  • Plan monthly budgets and use periodic or monthly reports instead of approval per project.
  • Use localization resources who can cope with this model with respect to speed and effective communications.

After analyzing the Agile model at software companies we have found some tips and tricks to accelerate the adaptation process, such as:

  • Automate the hand off and hand back cycles.
  • Use resource allocation applications to monitor resources on an hourly basis. Or use a project management system to monitor the progress from the localization side using dashboards and scorecards to track performance.
  • Reduce time needed time for communication between LSP and SLVs and automate the process of HO/HB between them.
  • Provide quality tools to SLVs. At Saudisoft, these are developed in-house to do quality checks on the SLV side and provide logs to be verified on Saudisoft's side.

It is challenging to shift from the paradigm of Waterfall to Agile in localization. Before your company considers it, ask yourself if pure Agile is the best solution for your organization. Using proper business strategies, you can establish processes with your localization team that will result in on-time, high-quality products, and will also reduce project management stress in daily translation activities.

After 20 years of experience in computer engineering, programming and quality engineering, Amr Zaki joined Saudisoft as an Operation Manager in January 2011. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering in 1991 and started his career as a software developer, joining Microsoft in 1999 as a software development engineer in testing. In 2001, Amr joined Microsoft Gulf as test manager for Arabic Windows and was promoted to subsidiary program manager in 2003. In 2008, he created a testing team at Microsoft Egypt, reporting to the Windows international team responsible for handling right-to-left languages.