Sparks from a sparkler

Is a Localization Functional Team the Answer for Me?

If you saw that title and already had a firm Yes or No in mind, this may not be the article for you. But if your reaction was something like, “A localization what-now?” then read on.

What’s a localization functional team?

An A-Team. Crack squad of mercenaries. Team of ninjas. Guns for hire. We’ve talked about functional teams on this blog before. In short, a functional team is a purpose-built, temporary group of heavy-hitting experts recruited and brought together to complete a project or initiative that you don’t have the resources, time, or expertise to handle within your regular organization. There are different models for setting up and managing everything, but the goal is to fill in the gaps and/or complement your existing permanent staff. Bonus points for keeping HR happy by circumventing all the rigmarole that comes with onboarding new hires.

As you might have guessed, we believe the concept can be applied very effectively in the area of localization.

So, why would I use a functional team for localization?

Good question; I’m glad you asked. A functional team can help you do the heavy lifting when you have a big task in front of you. Say, the initial localization of your corporate web property, or a brand-new software product. You might be migrating from a legacy system or systems to something new and shiny. Maybe you’ve been put in charge of centralizing and standardizing your company’s disparate localization assets and processes, and you realize you’re only one person. You need to move quickly along the maturity curve, and you have a long way to go and not much time to get there. A functional team can be used to set up standards and structures, enact processes, implement software, develop and conduct training, create documentation, and even do the actual work of translating and localizing your materials.

Often, functional teams are placed on-site at your location. This enables real-time, face-to-face communication and operational efficiency. Depending on the nature of the project and your overall company culture, this physical presence can be quite valuable. However, if you’re part of a virtual, distributed workforce then functional teams can be built to fit this model just as well.

A major selling point of functional teams is their temporary nature. It’s often easier to get costs approved if you can point to a specific set of goals and a defined timeline to meet them. Full-time hires can be difficult to push through management, and they carry a lot of associated risks and burdens. And when your initial push ends, it often becomes a challenge to justify keeping additional headcount on the payroll. With a functional team, everyone enters the agreement with the understanding that the engagement is limited. However, you may discover at some point that specific roles or team members have clear long-term value to your company; in these cases you can make a low-risk temp-to-perm transition (no new recruiting, no anxieties about making a bad hire, no misaligned expectations).

Ok, sounds great. What types of roles should I consider for my localization functional team?

Another fantastic question; it’s like you’re reading my mind. The simple answer is “whatever you’re missing in-house.” That might mean setting up a team from A to Z, or it might involve bringing in a specialist or three to shore up your weak areas. Here are a few typical roles you might consider:

  • Project Manager: This individual is the central hub to organize and coordinate scope, schedule and budget for your initiative. S/he brings all the parties together. Working from within a functional team model, the PM’s “outsider” status in your company can be an asset; they are not tied up with other job responsibilities in your organization, and they are free of any potential pitfalls involving office politics or complicated organizational dynamics. A competent and experienced PM can make the difference between a smooth, successful launch and a painful, embarrassing failure.
  • Localization Engineers / CMS Experts / “Tech folks”: These are high-skill individuals who focus on optimizing the implementation and performance of localization technology, like computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, translation management systems (TMS), and machine translation (MT). They can also work on making sure the localization technology properly integrates with your local tech environment and infrastructure, like content management systems (CMS) and authoring tools. Whatever you’ve got, there’s an expert out there who specializes in it.
  • Linguists: This one isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk when building a localization functional team. There are a ton of amazing linguists located all over the world, often in markets that are more cost-effective than your own. In a lot of cases, it makes sense to outsource or offshore the actual translation of your words. However, if your company has a very specific identity, style or tone, and/or if you generate a lot of content on a continuous basis, bringing a limited number of linguists into your functional team may make sense. You may focus on hiring a senior editor to validate and polish the translations you get from your overseas resources, or a seasoned foreign-market professional specialized in your particular industry. Or maybe you bring in a set of native foreign-language testers to QA your product in-house before release. There are a lot of options to consider, but a room full of translators isn’t *always* the best use of your budget.
  • Global SEO experts, desktop publishing specialists, social media gurus, unicorn wranglers: You name it. The sky is the limit. The beauty of a functional team is that it is designed exactly to suit your unique needs. And if you build your team and then discover a gap, you can always fill it on the fly.

Wow, this is kind of a lot to process. I guess I have some thinking to do. But how do I know if a localization functional team is right for me?

In the end, it all depends on your situation. If you’ve got a trusted Language Services Provider (LSP) that you already work with, check with them. If you don’t have one or if they’re not the right resource, we can help you run a cost/benefit analysis to compare against more traditional staffing or outsourcing models. Certainly it’s not for everyone, but in the right circumstances a well-built functional team can be just the ticket.