A project manager can make or break a project, but a project is more than just the sum of its parts, it’s reliant on everyone working on the project. Great managers make a team (and therefore a project) thrive, while terrible managers drive people away (and projects into the gutter).

I’ve seen a lot of successful and unsuccessful localization projects and have heard from a lot of different people about their dream and nightmare projects. I’ve boiled all of this information down into these dos and don’ts of video game localization project management.

(This article is for managers and project managers of translation and LQA working for translation agencies, developers, publishers, etc., as well as those interested in a position in localization project management.)

 

A Localization Project Manager’s Role

LPM (localization project manager) tasks vary from company to company but generally their role is to;

  • plan and oversee the overall workflow of a project,
  • manage each step of the localization process for a project,
  • balance budgets and costs, as well as schedules,
  • coordinate between all team members to ensure effective collaboration,
  • analyze source files to determine potential challenges and plan preventative measures,
  • check and confirm quality is maintained across all languages,
  • propose improvements for workflows, systems, tools, etc.

A project’s success is also dependent upon its team members, so it’s important an LPM is devoted to their team as much as the project.

LPMs should also;

  • clearly communicate between all team members and clients,
  • understand individual team member’s capabilities and adjust to facilitate their needs, as well as the needs of the project,
  • provide guidance and feedback throughout the project.

 

When an LPM prioritizes the project over the wellbeing of their team, that’s when you start to get inefficient workflows and increase the risk of burnout. Likewise, when an LPM prioritizes individuals over the project you risk missing deadlines and targets.

It’s important for a good LPM to balance people and projects for long-term sustainability and growth.

Here are some tips you can implement for better project management.

Localization project manager sitting on a calendar with a laptop.

Best Practices for Localization Project Managers

– Communication –

The most important part of a project manager’s role is communication. This goes for all managers, not just LPMs!

A localization project manager can easily improve a project’s workflow and quality by effectively communicating with their team members. This can be done through regular e-mails and meetings keep all members updated on the status of the project (make sure to keep those e-mails and messages short and sweet) while also encouraging regular updates from team members.

 

・Regular Updates

Establishing a schedule for updating all members of a team on the status and next steps of project can vastly improve communication and workflow.

What information and how said information is presented varies depending on the audience, though. What a manager needs to know from their vendors will differ from what vendors want from their freelancers, for example.

Regular updates also allow you to keep everyone abreast of issues or potential issues which might impact the team and the project.

These updates can be e-mails, messages, or, if needed, meetings.

 

・Daily Updates

Have a space where your team (freelancers, in-house localization teams) can post a bulleted list of their daily plans. This helps you keep track of everyone’s tasks and progress. You can also use these to summarize the team’s progress when communicating with clients and managers.

Don’t forget to also list what you’re doing, and any updates to the project, so that everyone else is kept in the loop as well.

 

・Kick-off Meetings

Plan a kick-off meeting for the different teams on a project so that all team members are on the same page. A kick-off meeting should include clear information on the scope, tasks, workflow, etc. of a project.

They also give people a chance to ask questions and point out potential issues in advance. Make sure there’s time for questions!

 

・Update Meetings

Update meetings should be held regularly (although how regularly depends on the needs of the project and the teams involved.) Again, update all the necessary members with information on schedule changes, completed / ongoing / upcoming tasks, etc.

Give people a chance again to ask questions and point out potential issues.

 

・Postmortem Meetings

These are great for providing feedback to team members to improve future projects. List aspects of the project that went well and what can be improved next time. Don’t just highlight problems but suggest solutions for handling similar issues in the future or to prevent such issues from arising.

Never frame a postmortem so it feels like you’re blaming anyone for anything.

Ask team members about what they think went well and what can be improved and collect their feedback and ideas either before or during the meeting. Give team members the option to make feedback anonymous.

 

※ If you’re working with freelancers and you want them involved in any of these meetings (which you should), make sure you pay them for their time. Freelance translators, editors, and LQA staff should be paid for any additional tasks such as attending meetings and familiarization.

 

– Messages and E-mails –

・Short and Sweet

Keep your messages and e-mails short and sweet. Avoid long paragraphs and walls of text. Instead, highlight key information with bold formatting or bullet point tasks. Keep it simple to avoid any chances for miscommunication.

 

・Reply ASAP

Make sure to replay in a timely matter. It’s good practice to send a reply as soon as you’ve read an e-mail or message, even if it’s just to confirm that you received the message and will get back to them later with more information.

 

・Message/E-mail When Something is Updated

Update members when you have new information or files for a project. Nothing is more frustrating than when files are uploaded to a server, but no one knows they’re there because the LPM hasn’t informed everyone.

 

– Team Management –

A few years ago, Google investigated what make their best teams click and came up with five qualities that make a great team:

  • Psychological safety – team members are comfortable to make mistakes and ask questions.
  • Dependability – team members can reliably complete work on time.
  • Structure and clarity – team members have clear roles, goals, and plans.
  • Meaning – team members feel a sense of purpose in their work.
  • Impact – team members feel they’re making a difference.

You can read more about this study here: Team dynamics: Five keys to building effective teams

These five qualities are key for managers and project managers to create a healthy, sustainable team.

Here are some ideas on how to meet these five criteria.

 

・Don’t Blame Others

The fastest way to ruin a good working relationship and to drive people away is to instantly blame others for everything that goes wrong.

Sometimes things go wrong because they go wrong, or maybe something was poorly communicated. Things happen, but getting annoyed or angry instead of trying to come up with a solution to a problem is a great way to waste time and energy.

If something goes pear shaped, try to work with people to find a solution to the problem.

And most importantly, don’t blame other people if you made the mistake.

Which leads into the next point…

 

・Be Empathetic

Empathy is an incredibly useful tool when working with others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone, but instead be open minded and listen to the people you work with. Empathy allows you to build relationships based on trust so that your team feels comfortable approaching you.

 

・Trust Your Team and Don’t Micromanage

Whether you’re working with in-house team members or freelancers, you’re working with the people that were picked for the job at hand. They have experience and drive. Trust them to get their work done.

This doesn’t mean give them a task and then don’t follow up with them again until the deadline. Regular meetings allow for a two-way street of updates on how a project is going.

If you see someone making a mistake, or doing something inefficiently, give them constructive feedback.

 

・Make Expectations Clear

Whether you’re talking to freelancers, in-house team members, or clients, always make your expectations clear. This way everyone is on the same page and can point out any potential issues or misunderstandings early on.

If you work with freelancers you want to make sure they have up-to-date documents, such as style guides, at the start of the project.

 

・Have a Space for Feedback

Create the space and time for feedback and questions from everyone on a project. Let people know that they can message you directly about issues.

A bad project manager gets annoyed when team members bring up issues, making them reluctant to bring up issues in the future, which can cause problems in the long run.

 

・Give Constructive Feedback

The team working under you will thrive when given constructive feedback that helps them grow. Constructive feedback lets them know what they should keep doing and where they can improve.

 

– Budgets and Costs –

・Always Plan a 20% Buffer

Well laid plans often go awry, especially when working on large projects. It’s always best to include a 20% buffer in your estimates for a project. That way if you hit your original budget target, then great! But if you go over, it’s not the end of the world.

 

・Pay Freelancers for Additional Tasks

Freelance translators are often hired to translate a batch of text, but LPMs can sometimes forget about additional requests such as file reviews, reading references, Q&A, and additional meetings.

Make sure you keep track of what your freelancers are doing and pay them for all the work they do for you.

 

– Scheduling –

・Plan 20% Buffer

Just like with a budget, schedules don’t always go as planned, so always plan a buffer in each section of the project. Especially if you have freelancers from all around the globe as the time differences they’re working with might delay deliveries.

 

・Take Time Differences into Account

Localization is a global endeavor, meaning clients and team members aren’t always based in the same time zone. Take the time differences into account when you schedule something.

If you organize meetings or deadlines, make sure you include the local date and times of all parties to avoid confusion.

 

・Plan Around Holidays and Vacation

Different countries have different national holidays and it’s important to be aware of them when scheduling. China, for example, has their New Year in February and a lot of Chinese people take a week or two off. Or Japan has a series of national holidays at the end of April/beginning of May, while many Italians take August off.

Individual vacations may also impact a project, so make sure you know when people plan to go away and schedule around that.

 

・Confirm Freelancers’ Schedules in Advance

Freelancers can often work on multiple projects at a time. So even if they say they can translate 3,000 words a day, 1,500 of that count might be on another project with another client of theirs. Always check a freelancer’s schedule and work your project around that.

If a project isn’t set in stone, let the freelancer know, so they can also plan their schedules accordingly. You don’t want to leave a freelancer in the lurch waiting for a delayed project, only to have them busy when you do need them.

 

・The Weekend is Not a Workday

Freelancers can work any time of the day, any day, but assuming and expecting them to work over the weekend is not good. Translating and testing is hard work and takes a lot of brain power, which is why freelancers need the weekend (or another two day break) to rest.

Always assume the work week is five days long.

 

・Create a Realistic Schedule (and Avoid Too Many Cooks)

This is a combination of scheduling, team management, and project management, but avoid throwing more people on a project just to make a tight deadline.

When a client proposes a schedule check to see if the schedule is doable and if not present them with a realistic schedule and explain why it’s better for quality and budget. A great way to reduce the quality of a localization is by throwing a large number of people on it to make up for a lack of time. More people and less oversight means more inconsistencies and errors.

An ideal team size for a large project is two translators and one editor per target language.

 

 

– Managing a Project –

Besides communicating, budgeting, and scheduling, there’s the overall management of the project. This includes planning and improving workflows,

 

・Don’t Say Yes to Everything

When an LPM says yes to everything because they think that’s what the other person wants to hear, it can easily get out of hand. If an LPM instantly says yes without double checking that the thing they’re agreeing to is doable, issues can arise and that LPM becomes unreliable.

An honest LPM is a better LPM.

 

・Prepare / Plan a Loc Kit

An LPM should prepare a loc kit, or have the client fill in a loc kit before work on the project begins. This should include the scope of the project, as well as the medium, style of translation, style guides, references, and any additional information that will help the localization team do their job.

If you’re unable to fill in some of the information, make sure to ask the client.

 

・Check All Deliverables (from Clients and Team Members)

When you first receive source files, double check them yourself before sending them on to the next step. This way you can make sure all necessary information is present, such as character limits. It also allows you to get an idea of what kind of text your team will be working on, and the actual scope (double check words/character counts for invoicing).

Then, when you get deliverables back from your team, double check that everyone translated the text they were expected to, and there aren’t any issues in the file formats.

If you are fielding questions from translators or bug reports from LQA, make sure you read through every question and don’t pass them along blindly. There might be duplicate questions, or unclear wording. It pays to be diligent and filter these so your client doesn’t have to.

 

I love managing localization projects. It’s stressful but rewarding when everything fits together. And the key to long-term healthy teams and successful projects are these best practices.

 

– Best Practices Summary –

Communication
  • Hold kick-off, update, and postmortem meetings for all levels of a project.
  • Regularly update all team members on the status of the project, schedules, upcoming tasks, etc.
  • Keep e-mails and messages short and sweet.
  • Reply to e-mails and messages when you’ve read them. (Even if it’s just to say, “information received”.)
  • Inform all team members when new information, files, etc. are ready.
Team Management
  • Make expectations clear from the start.
  • Provide space for feedback from team members.
  • Give constructive feedback to improve team growth.
Budgets and Costs
  • Always plan a 20% buffer for costs.
  • Pay freelancers for their time when getting them involved in additional meetings and tasks outside the original scope.
Scheduling
  • Always plan a 20% buffer for time.
  • Do not plan a project around the assumption that freelancers will work over the weekend.
  • Take time zone differences into account.
Project Management
  • Don’t say yes to everything. Double check if something is doable first.
  • Double check files you’re sending and receiving.
  • Manage files in a logical manner (so anyone can find them).
  • Read translator queries and bug reports before sending them on. (Can you answer the question? Have you already reported the same issue for another language?)

 

Additional Information on Good Management

Team dynamics: Five keys to building effective teams

How to be a great leader at a games company – without going bananas

 

Other Articles You Might Like

Interesting Localization Articles from the Last Year (and more)

Everything You Need to Know About Mentoring for Translators

There’s No Translator Shortage, Just a Shortage of Decent Companies

 

Written by Jennifer O’Donnell
Edited by Wesley O’Donnell

 

Best Practices for Localization Project Managers
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