A client recently asked me to list the root causes of localization quality problems. The length of the list surprised them! Localization — making your content, apps, products, and other experiences appropriate for a locale — is critical to global market penetration. It’s also a highly technical process that is entwined with all of your content systems and processes. That means many failure points — a real “loc mess.”

Since we’re near the end of the year, I thought I would turn my list of root causes into a pastiche of a well-known holiday song … ahem.

The 12 Days Of Loc Mess

On the twelfth day of loc mess, my PM sent to me:

Twelve manual file transfers

Eleven content systems

Ten untrained reviewers

Nine conflicting comments

Eight different glossaries

Seven untrained vendors

Six busy reviewers

Five untrained MTs

Four mismatched vendors

Three powerless PMs

Two(/too) little volume

And a non-customer-centric strategy

Your Loc Mess Doesn’t Have To Be A Loc Miss

Any of these issues can hurt localization quality. They all have different root causes. And all of them are solvable. Let’s look at them one by one:

  • Manual file transfers. Modern localization tech stacks are tightly integrated. Content should flow automatically from your website, development environments, and content management systems (CMSes) to and from the localization vendors. Manual processes impair quality and timeliness. Translation management systems will help you scale. Firms with more complex needs may also benefit from middleware.
  • Multiple content systems. Quality and consistency suffer when many teams use many tools. Localization multiplies the chaos. If your CMSes aren’t set up for content reuse, multilingual version control, and contextual delivery, then timely, on-target localization becomes very difficult.
  • Untrained reviewers. Reviewing localization takes aptitude and training. Without that, almost all of the comments will be subjective, and many of them will be about the underlying content. Work with your localization service provider (LSP) to select and train your reviewers.
  • Conflicting comments. If nine people comment on localization quality, you will get at least 10 different opinions. And what does it even mean to say that the localization is of poor quality? Is it misspelled? Did long German strings get truncated? Did the translators mistranslate technical content? All of these have different causes and different solutions. Provide reviewer scorecards to track different quality criteria and set specific targets.
  • Different glossaries. It’s hard enough to stick to the style guide in one language. When multiple vendors and multiple languages are in play, they will translate the same thing in a dozen ways. You must centralize terminology management, translation glossaries, and translation memories. Otherwise, your international brand voice will sound more like an untuned chorus.
  • Untrained vendors. We often assume that vendors understand what we want, but you know what they say about assumptions. To prevent problems, smart firms create onboarding kits for each language with ideal examples of data sheets, landing pages, customer stories, and so on. These examples don’t have to be your own! They can be from your competitors, adjacent vendors, or industry publications.
  • Busy reviewers. Reviewing localization takes time as well as skill, and it’s usually piled on top of people’s regular jobs. Unfortunately, the work is often boring and repetitive. Try automating the process with linguistic quality assessment tools, either in-house or at your LSP. When your reviewers aren’t bogged down by routine copy editing, they’ll have more time and energy for decisions that require human judgment.
  • Untrained machine translation (MT). If you are localizing high volumes or at high speed, secure commercial machine translation is a no-brainer. The speed and cost savings are astronomical. However, MT libraries require effort and investment to deliver quality results.
  • Mismatched vendors. In a blog some years back, I observed that choosing an LSP is like dating. Someone can be perfect on paper and yet not right for you. If you’ve tried everything and it just isn’t gelling, then investigate other vendors. A strategic partnership with an LSP who understands you and supports your global goals is an enormous asset. Don’t accept anything less.
  • Powerless PMs. I’ve always said that the project-management surcharge is worth its weight in gold, because a strong project manager (PM) is a life-changer. But if your PM is not set up to succeed, or is not a strong enough advocate for you, then it can be an uphill battle to get your needs met.
  • Little volume. You don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. Focusing on a few LSPs can earn you volume pricing, dedicated translators, and specialized attention. It’s useful to have at least two LSPs for competition and comparison, and you may need some vendors who specialize in areas such as legal or medical translation, but the list should be short.
  • Non-customer-centric strategy. None of the rest matters if you aren’t giving your customers what they need. Unless you have unlimited budget, you have to prioritize — but it’s a tough nut to crack. Companies must look at touchpoints across the customer lifecycle and assess customer preferences in each country and language. Forrester customers can take advantage of the Forrester Localization Planning Optimization Tool.

Want to talk about how to set up internal processes, systems, and people to deliver a compelling, competitive localized experience in each country? Contact your Forrester account manager to set up a guidance session with me.