Driving Localization Leadership

How localization teams and leaders can use data to get beyond a delivery service and towards a more strategic leadership position.

Featuring insight from some of the greatest teams in software: Deliveroo, Google, HubSpot Pinterest, Pleo, Shopify and Slack.

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driving localization leadership 5-1

About this playbook:
How to build a great localization strategy

If you’re thinking about moving into new markets, how much thought have you given to your localization strategy? It can be extremely easy to get pulled into being an in-house translation agency and forget to set a strategic agenda.

We’re going to be looking at what a localization strategy entails and how to develop one that helps your business make the right kind of impact.

Global App Testing is a community of testing professionals. There’s 90,000 of us; we run best-in-class functional and user research around the world, much of which is concerned with localization quality.  

Today, in 190 countries, we help the biggest software businesses deliver programs worth hundreds of billions of dollars. With that knowledge, we wanted to build this playbook.


Recently, we ran an interview series: Around the World in 7 Localization Interviews. It includes interviewees from Recently, we ran an interview series: Around the World in 7 Localization Interviews. It includes interviewees from HubSpot, Deliveroo, Slack, Google, Pleo, Pinterest, and Shopify.

We’ve gone back and looked at some of the highlights of those interviews. We’ve also supplemented it with our own knowledge and research from working alongside major localization teams from global businesses.

And here’s what you’ll learn:


Different stages of maturity for l10n teams and where you are.


2.5x faster go-to-market time and better l10n delivery 


Framing localization as an investment to be more valued


Understanding your investments, your ROI and what to do next


Decision-making data and identifying value-add resolutions


Generating leadership buy-in for your team as a strategic leader


How to be a strategic leader in your business.

Chapter 1 

What is the delivery narrative?

In this chapter, we’ll cover the following:



Different team maturity stages. What they are and how do we recognize them?



What’s the delivery narrative? The first stage of maturity and how to ace it.



The challenges as we understand them. Here’s the challenges businesses describe in delivery.

   What is a narrative?

In our Amazon bestseller Leading Quality, we referred to ”narratives” around software quality which a business shares.

A “narrative” is a set of ideas and principles your team has, and it can be about anything. What do they believe about quality? Security? Team building? Even if you don’t deliberately encourage specific views, your team has a narrative, and you should know what it is.

And in localization?

Because it’s such a cross-functional job, the narrative about localization was even more important.

We identified 3 belief areas:

1. Your business believes something about what localization is

2. Your business believes something about what a localization team is for

And therefore

3. Your business believes something about whether a localization team has been successful


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   What is the delivery narrative in localization?

The first localization narrative is the delivery narrative.

Put simply, the narrative says: “the localization team delivers localization”

“We need to translate our product, our support material, and our marketing content to local users. So we’ve hired someone to sort that out.” 

See how we tease that out against the other narratives below:


What’s a localization team for?

What is localization? 

Has the l10n team been successful?

The delivery narrative

To deliver localization; (usually translations)

A necessary evil

(Mostly) translating things 

A commodity 

They deliver fast l10n (sometimes, continuously) 

There’s no quality issues 

The investment narrative

An investment in international effectiveness

A nice-to-have 

The more you localize, the more customers like you 

Enhances our ROI – but employees don't trust the figures

They achieve ROI, and explain it convincingly

The strategy narrative

The voice of local users

Essential to our performance

A process which involves data gathering & governance 

A strategic investment 

We achieve our mission in international markets 



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Among our clients, we sometimes find that l10n professionals are more likely to be critical of the delivery narrative than the other two. In particular, they are:

  1. Frustrated by what they perceived as an early-stage narrative and answering to others; 
  2. More likely to report a difference between their own understanding of that role; and that of the business.

But the advice from the top performers?

They say, (3) it's no good to resent this narrative. You need to ace delivery, especially when it's requested by other departments. We'll show you how to do it below.

   Challenges with the delivery narrative

From our own knowledge, and our recent interview series, here are some of the challenges with the delivery narrative.


1. Negative perceptions of localization

I. A necessary evil 

Some localization professionals are concerned that delivery-only departments are perceived as a “necessary evil.” Those were the words of a Localization Director Global App Testing (GAT) spoke to on background. 

“I want to advocate for deeper localization,” he told us, “but engineers perceive us as a kind of necessary evil. I want to make the argument that there’s an ROI on deeper localization.” 

It also cropped up in our recent interviews:

‘It’s very easy to get pulled into being this in-house translation agency,’ Iggy, Localization Manager @ Deliveroo had told me. ‘Or a necessary evil at the end of a process.”

One of the consequences of regarding l10n as a barrier-to-release, rather than an investment, is that it comes to be perceived as a cost center, which can cap the value you can deliver. 

From the interview: Iggy, Senior Localization Manager at Deliveroo on identifying, and being part of, business goals


II. A commodity 

A related idea would be that localization is a “commodity”.  

“I feel that localization in general is perceived as a commodity”, said Natalia, the Terminology Manager at Google, in her interview with GAT, although she added “not at Google”.

To spell out what this means, a commodity is a good which is fungible or largely fungible – for example, that translations are all equivalent, in the same way that gallons of crude oil would be equivalent.

Selling a “commodity” is not necessarily a negative thing, but does transform how we might look at our understanding of success. As a commodity, localization success would be about delivering localization quickly and cheaply.


2. Wildly different workflow expectations

If localization is about delivering high quality quickly, it raises a question. How fast should you be delivering things?

In his interview with GAT, Robert Bauch, a Product Program Manager at HubSpot described the challenges of product and marketing working through i8n challenges together.  

Marketing copy needed to be “polished to the max” said Robert; his world of product needed to be more consistent to specialized language libraries – and much faster.

From the interview: watch Robert Bauch discuss the thresholds of localization quality for marketing vs product


“In product, we needed to keep moving. We were pushing code to production hundreds of times a day. 3-400 times a day. We needed [a translation process] to keep up with that.”

Natalia, a Terminology Manager at Google, used to work for a language service provider. In her interview, she said that they sometimes had to educate marketing teams.

“It could be difficult to have conversations”, she said, with teams who “understand tone of voice – but not products, development and release cycles, or anything else from a best practices standpoint.”

How do you thread that line?

We explain below. 👇


3. A lack of awareness of non-American user needs

Steve Jobs articulated one of the most famous ideas in product. 

“You have to start with the customer experience” he said, “and work backwards to the technology.” 

Does that happen in localization teams? Consider the following categories of product localization:







English-only content or product

Localized content or product

Local content or product built from scratch

With the exception of Slack, every business we spoke to varied the extent to which they localized depending on things like market size. But teams focused on “B” don’t introduce users from local markets at their planning stage, so the content or product is likely to be further from local user needs. 

Natalia, Terminology Manager @ Google said: “Let’s be frank. It’s very difficult for someone to think of terminology for global audiences. When content creators, or the content owner thinks about what they’re going to produce, they usually do it in their language… so that means they might focus all their efforts into that.” 

4. A trade-off between speed and quality 

A trade-off between speed and quality is well-known to anybody who works in software. In fact, many engineering ideas seem to be creeping into a space formerly run by translators. “We work in CI/CD” said Diana, Content Localization Manager @ Pleo, who was not from a technical background.

”Continuous Integration & Continuous Delivery” is a framework which describes how you can deliver software effectively in a software team. It makes recommendations about automation in your release cycle, for example; but we’ll talk more about that later. 

It’s also a challenge to get good translations from third-parties at pace. 

Natalia (Google) described the “Holy Trinity” of using third parties to deliver your translations – speed, quality, price. “You can’t have all three”.

We know that quality assurance is often a bottleneck. Diana, the localization content manager @ Pleo, described a process whereby “every word” was checked internally despite a lack of in-house translators. Pleo was fortunate, said Diana, “we have a lot of people that are very interested… and very proud of bringing Pleo to their home country.”
From the interview: watch Anca Greve from Slack discuss their reactive, customer-focused approach to localization


   Key takeaways from chapter 1






Yours might be a delivery narrative business

The “delivery narrative” is the most common localization team narrative that we encountered among teams – this is likely to include you 






Delivery is about speed & scale

As a commodity, teams will appreciate rapid delivery and will understand “quality” as lack of mistakes; rather than e.g. deeper rapport with users






Delivery narratives are fraught with challenges

Beyond being squeezed to go faster, professionals report feeling undervalued and businesses fail to accommodate for non-english-speaking users




To get beyond delivery you need to ace it

It’s not acceptable to opt out of delivery – you need to ace delivery in order to move on to better narratives



Go to Chapter 2  →

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