Like all other business processes, localization comes with risks during the lifecycle of a project. These risks can include unexpected scope increases, unforeseen technical issues, or logistical problems like power failures and server outages. All of these risks would certainly result in poor localization quality and missed deliveries if it were not for risk management. In today's competitive economy, delayed time-to-market or a low quality localization can have a major impact on a company's bottom line. Effective risk management is an indispensable tool that allows companies to avoid or minimize localization risks during project development.
Although risk management is one of the most important aspects of an effective L10N project management, it has been largely ignored due to lack of awareness and little or no training among localization service providers. The lack of a well developed and systematic process to deal with all uncertainties during the lifespan of a localization project execution often leads to the poor performance of an inexperienced L10N provider and a very unhappy client. An effective, tested Risk Management plan and an understanding of how to anticipate and head-off risks are an intrinsic part of localization that should not be underestimated.
Proactive Project Management
One of the most effective risk management practices is to proactively manage uncertainties to achieve good quality and on-time performance during the localization project. Proactive project management involves risk identification, risk analysis and risk response at the very beginning of each project.
Risk identification involves identifying what kind of uncertainties a project might be exposed to. This information can be obtained by learning from past experiences, understanding project requirements, having a clear picture of a client's expectations, determining if there is adequate technical know-how for the project execution, carefully evaluating the production schedule to determine if there can be an on-time delivery, having a cost analysis of the project and, also, by brainstorming.
For example, during a full-cycle software localization project, not only do all UI and Online Help strings have to be extracted, translated and reviewed according to schedule; the software itself has be installed, compiled and tested using pseudo translated files. This is done to identify all technical issues such as hard coded strings, missing translations or components and internationalization bugs early in the process. Only then can successful executions of downstream production steps be ensured.
Risk analysis is a way to understand the nature of risks. In most cases, risks are divided into two categories: qualitative and quantitative risks. Qualitative risks refer to the things that cannot be measured, or, "the intangibles". Quantitative risks refer to those which can be measured, or, "the tangibles".
Qualitative Risks are all those risks which affect the quality of a project. These risks can be categorized as follows:
- Risks that occur in response to inadequate or incomplete information from the client. For example, client making frequent changes to project deliverables, unclear requirements from the client, and/or unrealistic expectations from the client.
- Risks due to inadequate resources. For example, lack of technical knowledge, lack of equipment, poor management, unexpected personnel changes, unclear roles and/or lack of accountability.
- Risks due to lack of process management usually within a small company. For example, workflow failure and quality assurance failure.
Quantitative risks are those risks that can be measured. For example, all the risks associated with cost control can easily be anticipated and measured in advance. A mistake in understanding the project scope can easily get out of hand, resulting in cost overruns. Similarly, a misunderstanding of the number of intended platforms required for the software to be compatible with can have an impact on the duration of the post-translation testing and bug fixing stage resulting in missed project deadlines.
A proper risk response can only come from an experienced and highly organized L10N company. Intimate industry knowledge and past experience, in addition to a well organized project kick-off, allows a localization company to anticipate and identify potential risks. Only when risks are anticipated ahead of time can they be dealt with proactively in an organized and systematic manner.
Apart from the fact that risks can be identified, sometimes there are also warning signs of a potential threat to a project. These warning signs include dissatisfied employees, rapid staff turnover, and frequent changes in project specification or cost overruns in the beginning of a project.
In general, risks can be classified into four categories based on their probability and impact on a project. Animal names have often been borrowed to reflect the nature of these types of risks:
- Tigers -- risks with high probability and high impact.
- Alligators -- risks with low probability but high impact.
- Puppies -- risks with high probability but low impact.
- Kittens -- risks with low probability and low impact.
Tigers are dangerous and should be neutralized as soon as possible while alligators require close monitoring and a contingency plan. Project assumptions can be treated as alligators or puppies depending on the impact they might create on the project. Puppies should be monitored closely so that they don't grow into tigers! They require monitoring but no risk response plan is needed. Kittens are risks with both low probability and low impact and therefore usually can be ignored.
For a typical localization project, the process involves a series of steps each having its own potential risks. The project manager, therefore, has to anticipate not only the overall risk to a project, but also anticipate the risk it might encounter at each stage of localization process. Proactive project management requires the project manager to fully manage L10N risks by identifying all project risks, fully analyzing them and developing plans to effectively deal with them.
The goal of Risk Response planning is to reduce the impact or probability of the risks during L10N project execution which includes:
- Addressing the risk when it arises (usually used for kittens).
- Avoiding the risk by changing project scope or approach the project so that the risk does not exist (usually used for tigers).
- A backup plan reserved in the case that the risk factor materializes.
- Insurance coverage used to protect oneself from certain obvious risks and sometimes using a technique called risk mitigation to reduce the impact or the probability of risk.
In summary, proactive project management requires the project manager, at the initiation phase of a project, to use a SOW to state any risks that might arise in the execution of a L10N project, its impact and subsequent result of this risk. This way the client is made aware of what risks could arise and will be able to agree on what should be done to correct the problem. The manager should a have clear statement of project scope (such as project requirements and deliverables) in order to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. There should also be some kind of insurance obtained to provide protection against unforeseen accidents. In the project execution phase the localization manager should make sure that there are no cost overruns and that the project is running on schedule. However, a consistent plan is needed throughout the project to monitor for any potential tigers or alligators!