Your company is never too small to make money from international markets. If you’re developing applications that are downloadable from the Web (and who isn’t these days?), then you already have a worldwide distribution channel, whether or not you’re ready to support it. Here are five guidelines to follow when organizing your development team to build world-aware products:
1. Engage product managers and designers in the localization process. To create shared ownership for global customer satisfaction across your organization, set up a roundtable or an advisory group. Meet on a regular basis to focus on building the required infrastructure and processes to enable product management, design, development, and localizers (the people who adapt, translate, and test software for international markets) to function as a well-oiled machine.
2. Integrate localization into your source-control and build systems. Sit down with your localization team (which can mean a third-party translation company, along with internal project managers) and sketch out a plan to integrate localized products into your source-control build processes. The greater your urge to push back, the more this discussion needs to happen. The solutions you devise will help various teams work together toward common goals as part of a unified development process that integrates international requirements into your products from Day 1.
3. Treat your original language as just another language. Software product design and development at most companies is biased toward a single-language product deliverable process. The fact that product deliverables (software, help, documentation, Web content and so on) are “handed off” from your team to the localization team means that localized versions are viewed as add-ons rather than the important revenue generators they really are.
To solve this problem, treat your source language as if it could be replaced with any language. This forces you to update your development and release processes to be globally focused, rather than elevating the needs of the domestic market above all others. For example, do your localizers have as much context as you do when translating a new user interface function? If the answer is “no,” consider how to foster a localization environment within your product to fix this problem.
4. Use agile to make your process more nimble on a global scale. Teams that implement some flavor of agile development methodology often find that it is much more efficient for application developers themselves to validate that their code is properly internationalized, rather than handing it off to the localization team. The good news is that this validation process is not nearly as painful as it used to be. There are now automated tools available, along with recognized best practices such as pseudo-localization testing (look here and here for more information).
5. Implement globalization guidelines. Your localization team and language service providers will jump at the chance to work with you to create guidelines and best practices for developers to follow in future projects. Engage them to educate newly hired developers and acquired teams to prevent reinventing the wheel with every localization project.
To mature into a globalized company, you must move beyond “handing off” your code to localizers. At some point, all players—including the original product and user experience designers—must join together to figure out how to work the most efficiently. Your international customers, who may eventually generate significant portions of your revenue, are depending on you.
(Additional resources from Common Sense Advisory: “The Application Developer’s Guide to Global Primetime.”)
Rebecca Ray is a senior consultant at Common Sense Advisory, a Massachusetts-based independent research company.