The notion of agile process management has been around for at least fifteen years now and seems to gain traction just currently in the translation and localization businesses. Usually associated with software development, some of its valuable insights can also be applied to the language industry.
The agile movement was born from the frustrations caused by too many projects missing their goals and deadlines with results falling short of customer expectations. The declared culprit was the so-called waterfall model when projects are delivered in consecutive stages. This staged production lead to the accumulation of misinformation and delays on each step of the process. The agile answer to these challenges was to make a mind-shift and start valuing more collaboration over negotiation, individuals, and interactions over processes and tools. But most importantly, learning how to respond to change instead of following a strict plan.
The challenges above apply vastly to the language industry too. Translation and localization are usually planned at one of the last stages of the project. That leads to situations when a lot of work has to be redone – as the translator does not always have the whole context and the project can be partially untranslatable (would you really like to translate a recipe for moules marinière in an oven manual sent to Israel?).
Such an approach, often coming from the notion that localization and translation services are a commodity that “just happens”, leads to lengthy and costly repeated iterations. An agile approach minimizes the effort, avoiding constant project roundtrips between stakeholders trying to fix misunderstandings. So what would be the agile guidelines to be used in the language business?
The most important ones that I could name are:
- Value interaction and communication. The customers should involve their language service provider at an early stage of the project. They will provide them with valuable insights, that will clearly help to get to the final results faster.
- Accept and deliver the translation requests early, quickly, and often. Be ready to accept very small requests – that are a staple of the language market today anyway. Those projects with very short turnaround time expected cannot be charged on a “minimal project fee” basis, as it would lead to a detrimental explosion of costs for the customer.
- Streamline the translation process and minimize the management overhead. That is the only way to be able to deliver quickly while maintaining margins.
- Integrate translation into the production pipeline of the customer. Nowadays, projects are maintained by dedicated automated tools responsible for the whole delivery chain. Become a part of that chain by plugging-in your systems with the customer.
And last, but not least – automate as much as possible. It can sound counterintuitive at first, as the agile approach values more interaction between individuals. But as humans should be taking care of what they do best – communicate, computers should take care of the menial tasks that are repeatable, time-consuming, and error-prone. Automation promotes also reuse – further reducing the end-customer costs.
An agile approach helps in eliminating content that is inconsistent and not written with translation in mind. It reduces delivery time, costs, and helps in eliminating misunderstandings.
One question still stays open. How to convince our customers of the necessity of involving their language service supplier in their process as early as possible? The reasons for it are clear: earlier delivery reduced costs from avoiding rework, no more erroneous word-for-word translations, and predictable final delivery times. The software business has adopted the agile mindset years ago. It is time to adopt it in our industry.