Running a localization program at any company is no small feat. Executives rarely give a damn. It's not a revenue generator, but it could be a revenue blocker. It doesn't solve problems, but it can introduce a myriad of them. Life is not easy for a localization manager.
We have been a part of highly successful localization programs over our 15 year track record and not so successful programs as well. Here how to tell the difference.
Mistake # 1 - Relying on previous experience
Every localization program is different. Different companies, different MOs, different cultures, different sensitivities. Time and time again, a newly hired localization manager will try to roll out in their new environment strategies that were successfully deployed in their previous environment. Big mistake. While it is important to tap into previous experience, learnings, and best practices, the first thing that success requires is listening to the current environment. What does it need and most importantly what does it not need?
Mistake # 2 - Trying to re-invent the wheel
In an attempt to show value, the localization manager may decide to introduce a full upheaval of practices, vendors and processes. While this may be the ultimate outcome of years of work, coming in and trying to create a clean slate without thoroughly understanding the ins and outs of every single aspect of the current operation is a tragic mistake. Yes, this will give a loc manager the impression of getting a lot done. They will sleep well at night, and the ego will be comforted by the high degree of authorship introduced into the program, but if not done right, it can back-fire horribly. This applies to any new manager. Listen, learn, and soak in, before deciding what the proper intervention is. Often less is more and by introducing tons of changes early on it is easy to set in motion a chaotic snowball effect which will make it even more complicated to perform systemic analysis of what really requires fixing.
Mistake # 3 - Relying on the wrong partners
RFPs and vendor selection in localization are tricky. Some companies are just much better at running RFPs than others. RFPs do not test the service delivery model. They test how good vendors are at RFPs. This distinction may seem obvious but we are stuck in a loop and companies time and time again select vendors based on RFP performance as opposed to likelihood to perform well in practice. They key factors for good performance reside a lot more in trust, responsiveness, transparency, ethics, and genuine commitment as opposed to traditional items measured in RFPs such as company financial solidity, experience in a given industry, test scores and stated capabilities. People want to select big vendors that make them look good and exonerate them from potential future blame and accountability. Selecting based on predicted performance is much harder to measure and justify which poses a huge risk for those engaging in that kind of thinking. But it's that kind of thinking that really works in the long term.
Mistake #4 - Not really admitting what you do not know
Localization is a big field. File engineering, linguistics, process management, integrations, connectors, systems engineering. Nobody I know has mastered it all. But it's tempting as an "expert" to try to come off to others as knowing it all. Ignorance is easily seen and portrayed as a form of weakness. But without ignorance, there is no room for learning, no room for tapping into other experts to make things work. Making oneself vulnerable is particularly important in a cross functional role such as loc manager. It's a huge blow to the ego and generates a feeling of insecurity and worthlessness. But it's what propels us forward. The challenge is that rather than focus on keeping our jobs and being promoted, we need to be more committed to the overall health and success of the programs we are engaged in.
All of this is far easier said than done. These guidelines are no sure-fire recipe for success but they do flag recurring practices that do not promote or help reach the overarching goal of making localization truly shine.