It's 4:42 pm on a Wednesday. We are scheduled to launch globally on Monday but one of my support engineers opened critical bugs regarding translation quality in one of my product languages. It's like code red. Alarms going off, automatic doors sealing themselves off. This is major!
But before we get into full emergency mode, here are a few tips that can help you assess linguistic impact in product launch scenarios with lucidity so that you can best decide on the next steps:
1) Step 1: Let's Look at the Actual Merit of the Claims in Detail
More often than not, people will not be coherent in how they assess linguistic quality. We have seen people mark a grammar error as a critical bug. Same goes for terminology and spelling. When we look at the bugs that were brought up, what are they really? How do they ultimately impact User Experience? With language the same thing that may be unacceptable and wrong to one person can be understandable but incorrect to another person. Both may see the issue as the mistake, but in different magnitudes. Perhaps it was an inconsistency. Whatever it was, the fact is that every human product has flaws—no matter how good it is. It's what it means to be human—being flawed. So before jumping to conclusions based on how a single person categorized these issues, have two or three other language experts look at these errors from a user experience perspective and answer these questions:
- Will this prevent me from using the application?
- Will this irreparably harm the way I see this brand's credibility?
If the answer to any of these is unanimously yes, then you do indeed have a major problem that needs to be addressed prior to launch. If not, this can and should be addressed after launch. The key takeaway here is to analyze linguistic claims very granularly to truly understand how they were classified and what is really going on.
2) How do I know if I can launch without addressing these?
In addition to the bugs that were raised, as people use the application you can be nearly certain that other issues, including language issues will be raised. Perhaps they will include the same issues already raised, perhaps they will be entirely new. The fact is that launch is always a surprise and sometimes making a big deal about language is just an easy escape valve that people use to project their overall insecurity over how a product will perform. It's such an easy target. Even when reviewing the source copy of any given app, we can always find room for improvement and sometimes some potentially harmful ambiguities, inconsistencies and other things that also need to be addressed. But again the question is, what is good enough for launch? What kinds of mistakes can we tolerate and work around without causing harm to the product or the brand? Carelessness will tank a product. But excessive caution or even worse, excessive emphasis on items that are not absolutely pivotal to User Experience can lead an entire product team to lose its north over what is centrally important to an application.
3) Keep things in perspective: People want the app, product or website to do things. They are not looking at it from a stakeholder or product manager perspective.
It's hard. Months working on something and you will lose perspective over what matters. Pretty soon, everything matters. Everything is critical. Everything is do or die. Loss of perspective can tank a product launch like no other thing. An entire team gets working on something that is not critical as urgent because someone high-up thinks it is important. Now things that truly are critical will be missed and fade into background level. To make matters worse, in the process of addressing these non critical bugs late in the game, now you introduce the risk of having the product misbehave or break in new and unexpected ways.
So the bottom line is that late in the game, prior to launch, everyone gets cold feet and perspective is the first thing that gets thrown out the window. Be the lucid one to see through turmoil. It's always important to pick your battles wisely, but never more important than prior to product launch. Build a strong, robust process and trust it. But strong and robust means that with every iteration, tests were performed and they passed. It's not because you worked with a great translation agency, a great translator or an amazing Subject Matter Expert as a reviewer that things will be deterministically good. Assess each and every iteration prior to moving onto the next one. This will give you enough solidity to sustain attacks under pressure without feeling like everything is crumbling.