When does the localization process start? Waterfall vs. agile vs. continuous

When’s the best time to schedule a translation? What options do you have for project management? And what are the advantages of starting the translation while you’re still developing your website, app or other resource?

For the longest time, translation projects involving documents, books or catalogs – ones with a definitive start and end – followed the same trajectory: once the text was ready, the translator would work their magic. This changed with the advent of new technologies such as apps, software and websites. These are never truly finished: new features, content and business areas are always being added, meaning that the texts have to be constantly updated.

The tech revolution has also revolutionized the localization process. So how does it work today? There are three main options for organizing your translations.

Step-by-step – waterfall localization

The localization stage takes place after the app, software or website is developed. The design team creates the interface, the project management team coordinates the content (internally or externally), and the development department takes care of programming and tests the features. Once the product has been launched successfully, all the text elements are gathered together and sent out for translation. After the texts are revised, they are sent back to the developers to undergo another test round prior to go-live. The project therefore flows from one step to the next – hence the name “waterfall localization”. If, after the project is complete, there is a new language or update to be added, the process starts again from the beginning. The disadvantage here is that it requires a lot of manual work and scheduling, so any missed steps or additional rounds of editing will delay the entire release.

Waterfall localization

Agile localization

The project starts out small and agile, and the aim is to keep improving the product. The content is broken down into bite-sized packages for localization, which is done in parallel to the development sprints rather than after they are finished, as this saves time and enables problems to be resolved sooner. However, this does mean files have to be sent back and forth more often, and makes a translation management system (TMS) essential in order not to lose track of things. A TMS allows you to manage all of your translation projects on a single platform and to send them directly to your language service provider. Another issue is that smaller content elements may lack context.

Agile localization

Continuous localization

The third approach is based on agile localization, with the translation process taking place alongside the development trajectory as part of an automatic, seamless and synchronized cycle. What this means: the content flows back and forth in a continuous process, is continually translated, and is then fed back into the code via the TMS. Localized content can therefore go live at any time, regardless of whether a development sprint is taking place. The various teams aren’t dependent on one another and the turnaround times are shorter. This also means a project can easily cover multiple languages at the same time. The only prerequisite: having reliable technology in place – preferably a TMS linked to design software such as Figma or Sketch – along with clearly defined roles in the workflow.

Continuous localization

The main benefit of having a translation done in a design tool is that the translator can see the context surrounding the text and provide feedback to the designers on an ongoing basis. This makes the translation project a collaborative one that takes place in real time. You can find out more about this in our blog article.

Which approach is right for you?

Think about your goals. Do you want to have multiple languages at once? Are you keen on sustained growth? How about the ability to distribute resources while saving time? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, continuous localization is the most sustainable route to take. This is all the more true with apps, websites and software because you can keep regularly releasing new content as you update and improve them. Then you need to think about the team you’ll put together for it: to achieve a continuous workflow, you will need to assign specific roles to your developer team, along with a localization manager to oversee everything if it is a larger project. The more broadly you position yourself, the more you’ll reap the benefits.

The long and short of it: all three methods will get you to where you need to go. It just depends on when that is.

Cover image via iStock

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