The impact, scope, and benefits of agile methodologies are frequent topics at global business conferences — and in digital leadership forums in particular. Promises of unprecedented performance, in terms of accelerated management and flexible delivery, abound. So obvious, yet crucial questions arise for leaders dealing with localization in multinational or globalizing organizations. What is agile localization actually? How does it compare to “traditional” localization? What are the potential issues and challenges for the business? What are the benefits for local customers and their experiences? Several facets of agile localization go beyond changes that are enabled by technology solutions. 

Agile transformation and implementation start with people and processes. They start with the actual definitions and descriptions of how an agile methodology should be articulated and put into practice within global and local content supply chains. It is a prerequisite for ensuring that global products meet local product and experience requirements exactly when and where it matters for customers. Agility needs alignment, automation, and control that are definitely necessary for global expansion in the digital age. Here are five guiding principles helping avoid agile localization pitfalls and resulting from lessons learned in globalization trenches.

There is no agile localization without effective internationalization. You may focus your attention on how localization processes work in great detail. You are right to do so. Equally important is keeping a sharp eye on the level of localization readiness of your agile design and development efforts. As the high-level objective of agile localization is to adapt, test, certify, and deliver content more quickly you may miss these targets by handling source content that is not ready (enough) to be localized according to expectations. In other words, seamless content internationalization is more than ever a dependency for agile localization that makes it more timely and sensitive. Consistency and accuracy in source content are major sources of internationalization effectiveness here in terms of terminology, syntax, style, and format for example. If any unnecessary or unexpected change takes place in these areas it is likely to delay localization tasks and impact the rest of the content supply chain. Agile would become fragile.

 There is no agile localization without robust communication and collaboration. This applies to all interactions internally and externally. Even if you are currently satisfied with how your teams, stakeholders, partners, and suppliers work together, you have to take communication and collaboration to the next level sooner rather than later. For instance, you may have to embed them in localization instead of keeping them more or less connected. Simply put, agile localization means that smaller amounts of content — such as content chunks, fixpoints, or intermediate releases — are adapted more often, and more quickly, than in traditional workflows. Therefore it is vital to optimize connections within localization teams and strengthen linkages with other functions and disciplines, like technical writing or user experiences. 

Agile localization fits nicely in organizations demonstrating an agile mindset and culture, including startups and scaleups where people work in flexible and scalable teams according to product requirements and business objectives.

There is no agile localization without timely planning and proper positioning. Agile localization means integrated localization. One of the oldest challenges of localization is its inclusion in global product roadmaps and plans of records. It may still come up as an option or an afterthought which turns it into an activity that is too slow, late, or expensive. One of the recurring complaints from localization teams is the lack of visibility and recognition in organizations of all sizes. While they work hard with local customers in mind they do not appear easily on the radar of other teams or, if they do, they are not celebrated as they deserve it. As agile localization is a pillar of continuous globalization it does not tolerate any of these gaps. For new product introductions and release management, agile localization needs to be planned as a requirement from the outset. Since it is in the middle of product value chains (i.e. between content creation and product delivery) missing or underestimating it is a serious risk with more serious consequences than with waterfall-like localization.

There is no agile localization without prioritization and tradeoffs. Agile performance is first of all built on speed. An agile globalization and localization framework has to offer more flexibility to delight your customers which opens the door to fresh thoughts about the level of effectiveness that these customers need or prefer. Perfection is an objective that has always to be balanced with realistic customer expectations. If Chinese customers require your products to be available at a certain date you have to incorporate it as a priority allowing you to revisit the level of linguistic effectiveness accordingly. If German customers consider linguistic effectiveness as important as delivery dates you should adapt the supply chain timing and delivery schedule for that market to meet both aspirations. That is why agile localization does not imply delivering local content and products simultaneously in all markets and in all cases. From a localization standpoint, translation, as well as testing, are processes that are often subject to compromise and prioritization. A few linguistic glitches may be an unpleasant price to pay in order to meet tight deadlines while being an acceptable tradeoff for customers. You should also consider getting the balance right between linguistic, cultural, and functional testing and how far/deep you can go without slowing down. At any rate, risks have to be anticipated, mitigated, and validated with robust market and customer research upfront. They must be captured and measured with data too.

There is no agile localization without intelligent automation. Agile localization is a real-life example of winning combination between human and machine intelligence. Automation enables you to deliver on the promise of speed whereas localizers inject a great deal of contextual empathy, immersion, conviction, and trust in your content to delight human customers. If you are enhancing or moving to agile localization to better align content and product life cycles with customer experience journeys, you should use this opportunity to assess the automation features of your authoring tools, translation management system, digital asset management system, or content management system. You should pay attention to content reuse, repurpose, sharing, testing, provisioning, and delivery capabilities, as well as to the overall compatibility and connectivity between all relevant systems and content assets. Successful agile localization relies on circular flows of small amounts of content to a large extent. So leveraging up to date translation memories and glossaries containing previously localized and certified content on the fly has to be a no-brainer at all times. Also, using rule-based, statistical or neural machine translation in the most reliable and valuable way in light of your effectiveness goals is a must.