A thousand translators. Millions of words. Turnaround times in hours. And more than 100 languages. That’s a complex program, and there’s even more—it changes all the time. So how do you manage a localization program of such scale and complexity?
Microsoft Office knows: this is their program. They have experienced a huge evolution from the project-based localization models of the 1990’s to the continuous localization model of today. Now, theirs is one of the most mature models in the whole industry.
They have a lot of experience to share. How do programs shift from waterfall to Agile as the amount of content explodes? What are the implications to the supply team of a continuous localization model?
Moravia and Microsoft Office had the opportunity to co-present on these topics at the GALA 2017 Conference in Amsterdam earlier this year.
Irene Cormican, PM Manager for Microsoft Office, spoke about the change and complexity she has seen over time in Microsoft Office’s localization model.
Unstoppable business growth and customer demand have resulted in a number of challenges to their localization program, demanding a reconfiguration in the way things get done.
- Scale has exploded: the number of languages, the number of words, the number of projects. For example, to handle the program’s increasing scope, Microsoft Office quickly went from in-house translators to needing multiple vendors.
- Velocity has increased. Gone are the days of monthly or quarterly projects with ample schedules. Now, project handoffs are daily and turnaround times are sometimes same-day.
- Products have changed. Now, Office runs on all devices. This impacts localization project elements such as functional requirements and testing.
One Office...multiple devices (Credit: microsoft.com)
- The product’s delivery model is different. Now, everything is online, which means no one goes to a store, no one talks to a sales clerk. Products can be received and used immediately.
- Customers have different demands. They will no longer wait; they want updates tomorrow, not in six months.
- Customer focus has come to the fore. Irene calls this “customer obsession.” The customer decides quality now, whereas in the past it was based on the number of errors found and deadlines met.
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Language Services Providers (LSPs) now find themselves operating in this environment, and it’s no small feat to meet these challenges. But it’s possible…and Microsoft and Moravia are “almost there.”
Vendor responses to business changes
When an enterprise evolves as quickly and dramatically as Microsoft Office has, the way vendors drive the work must change just as quickly and drastically. How? Ivan Lukavsky, Program Director at Moravia, spoke to this.
First, in order to meet Microsoft Office’s goals, production had to adapt to meet program challenges and enable continuous localization:
- Custom-built engineering checks were added to speed up work and reduce human error. They run all the time, invisibly. These checks look for any errors that could compromise the functionality of the product or negatively impact the user experience.
- Advances in recycling speed up productivity and reduce cost. This means that a very small percentage of words requires human effort.
- New models for quality were developed. There is a quality risk with moving faster that must be managed. Quality processes must work immediately—within a matter of hours. For example, 15 different automated linguistic checks are now in place, and within them new rules are added all the time.
And the business model changed substantially as well:
- Vendors are no longer delivering assets, but rather a service. They are accountable for the entire program, instead of files, providing more autonomy to the vendor and less for the client to manage. Work is governed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA), and the conversation is now about the “health” of the service, not the individual transaction.
- Methods of governance changed. Programs are no longer measured by number of errors or number of on-time deliveries, but by KPIs such as turnaround time, volume, and finance. (One interesting KPI tracks interactions: the goal is for meetings and email exchanges to reduce.) Also, the program is now managed via dashboard, which gives a view of the entire program, rather than by project. The days of Excel status reports are over.
- The team’s mindset and culture had to evolve. Localization PMs stretched and grew into new capabilities and are now business managers. They also have to be creative and flexible since the localization program changes constantly, and quick response is paramount. They are responsible for driving new, innovative processes rather than just executing what’s in place.
- The program became “customer obsessed”: program success and quality are no longer based on QA scores, but on how the product is perceived by users. Any complaint is considered severe and is treated with utmost attention. And it’s collaborative: the vendor is now, along with Microsoft, part of ”listening loops” and helps respond to the needs of the customer.
The future of Agile collaboration
What’s next? The evolution of the Office program shows no sign of slowing down. It’s not a matter of when, but of what new complexities and challenges will show up. Ivan and Irene made some predictions. For starters, we will see more use of the crowd. As an example, a crowd of resources such as university students can do bug validation and QA.
Next, machine learning is also expected to play a bigger role in many aspects of the program, from content selection to quality management. And there will be more machine translation—always a viable way to increase productivity and the ability to handle high volumes and high speeds.
No matter what the challenges and solutions, the customer and vendor journeys are intertwined. No longer are there two sides of the fence. A program as complex as Office’s requires a vendor who can be creative, flexible, and responsible—at a grand scale. Microsoft Office leads the pack in adapting their localization program effectively to the demands of Agile: improved quality processes, a flexible workflow, more automations, and a 180-degree change in the business management aspects.
Global growers and optimizers alike can benefit from the insights shared by Microsoft Office’s mature program. When in the hands of industry leaders, what could have been an upheaval is a planned evolution, a careful and calculated response. Watch this space for more discussion on how client needs and localization models evolve in parallel.