Although localization project managers are not nearly as famous as game designers, app developers or movie directors, they are just as important, especially if you want to make a global impact. They’re the ones who make sure that users can play your game, use your app or watch your video in their own language — something that can increase your global audience by up to 30 percent.
So, who are these people? Exactly what do they do? And how can you find one for your product? Let’s find out.
What does a localization project manager do?
A localization project manager is the person who makes sure that your product is translated into other languages and, crucially, that it actually works in each target language. In today’s content-driven economy, localization is an extremely complex, multi-faceted process that requires a lot of coordination, planning and agility.
A typical localization project manager is responsible for the following:
Planning — The localization PM has to plan the entire process of translating your product into other languages. This includes deciding which languages to translate into, when and how. It also involves planning the resources needed for each language (e.g., translators, editors, proofreaders, subtitlers, designers, voice artists, etc.) and the time needed both for the initial translation and for any subsequent updates.
Coordination — The LPM has to coordinate the entire process of translating your product into other languages. This includes managing all the people involved in the translation, tracking their progress and making sure that they deliver on time.
Quality assurance — The LPM has to make sure that the translation is of high quality, both in terms of accuracy and style. This involves checking the translations for errors, ensuring consistency across all languages and making sure that each language sounds natural and is culturally appropriate.
Release management — The LPM has to make sure that the translation is released on time and in a way that doesn’t disrupt your business. This involves coordinating with other departments (e.g., engineering, marketing, sales, customer support, etc.) to ensure that the release goes smoothly.
Reporting — The LPM has to regularly report to the management on the overall health of the localization process. This includes reporting on the status of each language, any issues that have arisen and how they are being resolved, and any risks that may arise in the future.
As you can see, localization project managers are responsible for a lot of different things. So, while it may be tempting to assign localization project management tasks to an existing member of your team, it’s usually a good idea to hire someone specifically for the job.
Where do you find a localization project manager?
Finding a localization project manager is not easy, especially if you’re looking for one with experience in your particular industry. The best way to find one is by asking around — talk to other people in your industry and see if they know of anyone. As you’re reading this on the Smartcat blog, you might as well drop a line in our community, which is home to many great industry professionals, from freelance translators to localization project managers and engineers.
What character traits to look for in a localization project manager need?
To answer this question, we talked to a few localization project managers and other prominent industry professionals. Here’s a summary of what they had to say:
1. Empathizing with others' perspectives
“As localization project management involves the participation of multiple stakeholders, LPMs need to master the ability to speak the language of each stakeholder, analyze their perspectives and empathize with them, thus adjusting their communication style and approach to each of them,” says Olga Hergül of Şişecam.
Localization managers need to master the ability to speak the language of each stakeholder, analyze their perspectives and empathize with them.
When interviewing a localization PM applicant, ask them to describe a situation in which they had to deal with multiple stakeholders and how they handled it. Be willing to go into detail and ask follow-up questions to see if they were actually the ones responsible for handling the situation or just a bystander.
2. Being able to gently educate others
Localization is not the easiest field to understand for those not directly involved with it. That’s why it is important that LPMs can explain the process to others in a way that is easy to understand.
“An LPM needs to constantly educate stakeholders on their roles and inputs in the process,” says Olga Hergül, “as well as on the overall value that is being created through localization, and bring everyone in the loop for better results.”
“Localization PMs should be confident leaders able to manage up, down and sideways, and guide others through ambiguity and uncertainty,” adds localization consultant Tatiana Ryabinina.
Localization PMs should be confident leaders able to manage up, down and sideways, and guide others through ambiguity and uncertainty.”
When interviewing a candidate, ask them to explain localization to you. Pay attention to what words they use, whether they are able to explain the process in an easy-to-understand way, and if they use any jargon or technical terms.
3. Knowing how to manage expectations
A good LPM is always on top of things and knows exactly what is going on at all times. They know when a task is going to be delivered and when it is not, and they can communicate this information clearly. Especially in agile settings, where new tasks are constantly being added to the project, it is important that LPMs can manage expectations and communicate changes in a timely manner.
“Scope creep isn’t bad,” says localization project coordinator Clysree Brown. “It’s a test of your ability to communicate, negotiate, and set boundaries as a project manager.”
Scope creep is a test of your ability to to communicate, negotiate, and set boundaries as a project manager.”
A good way to test this skill is to “overplay” the amount of uncertainty and ambiguity they might expect in your company. If they claim to be comfortable with any last-minute changes or “scope creep,” then they might not be good at managing expectations.
4. Versatility and willingness to learn
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a common saying that applies to many professions, but, in case of localization project management, knowing a bit here and a bit there can be an advantage.
“As a localization professional, you’re likely to be involved in many (many!) aspects of your company business, from product design to marketing campaigns planning,” says Anna Iokhimovich, director of localization at Paxful. “Knowing how SEO works, how to read an HTML code, and how to use Google Analytics will help you stay on top of things.”
A localization manager is likely to be involved in many (many!) aspects of the company’s business, from product design to marketing campaigns planning.”
In an interview, start a discussion not directly related to localization and see how the candidate reacts. If they are able to follow along at least superficially, they might be able to adapt to your company’s culture and business specifics even if they don’t know them from the beginning.
5. A knack for tech & automation
In the localization industry, there is a constant struggle for automating repetitive tasks. A good LPM should be able to suggest automation solutions and evaluate their feasibility.
“One of the most desired skills for our project managers is the ability to adapt and to find ways to analyze and optimize processes,” says Diego Cresceri, founder & CEO at the Creative Words translation agency.
One of the most desired skills for our project managers is the ability to adapt and to find ways to analyze and optimize processes.”
This knack for optimizing things should be agnostic to the specific technologies involved. “Similar to programming,” says translation project manager Joshua Velásquez, “if you don’t master the basics of the language and only rely on frameworks, you will be in trouble when technical issues or challenges arise.”
To test this skill, ask the candidate to describe a situation in which they were able to automate something in their previous job. You can also ask them to suggest a way to automate your own current processes.
What skills to put in a localization project manager job description?
In this section, we summarize the excellent overview done by Agilent’s Natalia Kurysheva, who analyzed the job descriptions for the role of localization project managers posted on LinkedIn. These might help you come up with your own job description when you start looking for a localization project manager.
3 to 5 (and sometimes up to 10+) years of experience in localization, internationalization, project management, or similar fields.
Staying focused under pressure
Prioritizing and managing multiple projects simultaneously in a fast-paced environment
Thriving in an ambiguous environment and being comfortable with constant change
Ability to work effectively across time zones and cultures
Most common (99% of all job descriptions):
Translation management systems
Machine translation technology.
Note: Depending on the level of MT integration in your workflow, the localization project manager should understand the difference between stock and custom MT engines, know what MT engine training involves, etc.
Common for IT companies:
Internationalization standards such as Unicode and CLDR
XML and HTML
Basic understanding of software development processes
Issue tracking tools such as Jira
Reporting tools such as Tableau or QuickSight
Basic knowledge of coding/scripting, SQL, regular expressions, etc.
Agile project management practices
How Smartcat helps localization project managers make products global
Smartcat is a platform that helps you manage your entire localization process in one place. It allows you to easily find and hire translators, manage translation projects, track the progress of each project and pay any number of translation vendors in any currency, all from one place.
By combining a toolset that usually requires a number of different solutions, Smartcat helps localization project managers save time and money on your localization projects. Our studies show that localization project managers can save up to 70% of their time using Smartcat while bringing down the total cost of localization by up to 50%.
Smartcat is free for an unlimited number of users and projects, so you can test it out at any time by signing up here.