As the World Turns: Implementing Follow-the-Sun Localization

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Time is of the essence in any content localization that’s tied to a product release. Agile methodologies and continuous updates are relentlessly compressing release cycles, which in turn accelerates expected turnaround times for localized files.

Follow the Sun (FTS) is a delivery model that takes advantage of a localization vendor’s global coverage — with overlapping business hours from one time zone to the next — to accelerate turnaround times. With a solid structure, FTS can be a significant advantage. Here’s what you need to know to get it right.

How does Follow the Sun work?

When a client hands off source files at the end of a US business day, production teams in China can pick up and prepare the files for handoff to the translators. When translators are finished, the strategically-placed PMs and localization engineers in whichever vendor site is on duty — Asia, EMEA or the Americas — can receive and post-process the files for immediate handback to the client.

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Working hours across timezones
 
The FTS model easily saves a whole day in the turnaround cycle. If this sounds elegant and seamless, it certainly can be, but the model has its challenges. Let’s discuss the most common hurdles in FTS implementations.

Planning

The Follow-the-Sun model requires solid planning, communication and risk management. A successful model goes like clockwork. Everybody within production needs to understand the team’s roles and responsibilities. Central communication methods show status and ownership of the deliverables at all times. Backup plans need to be in place to cover holidays and known risks. Good collaboration between client and LSP guarantees the right expectations and avoids surprises.

Managing expectations

Faster localization and implementation of the Follow-the-Sun model put pressure on everybody within the localization process. The model describes an ideal scenario, but in reality, work across time zones will be inevitable.

Clear communication

Ambiguity becomes a serious threat. Low overlap of working hours from one site to the next means communication generally goes in one direction. If instructions are not crystal clear, the process stops because resources cannot get clarifying answers from their colleagues who have left for the day.

Business hours

The purpose of the FTS model is taking advantage of working hours in different time zones. Meetings and work outside of “normal” business hours must be an exception and not the default. Study the vendor’s proposed staffing model, communication plan, and meeting schedule. You want to limit the frequency of any given resource needing to participate in a 10 p.m. or 4 a.m. meeting. Despite the best intentions by willing team members, that’s just not sustainable, and that puts your program at risk.

Content prioritization

Not all deliverables truly require turnaround within the shortest timeframe, and in a centralized program, it’s the localization manager’s role to prioritize project requests. Which stakeholders and content types legitimately need the fastest turnaround, and which stakeholders are failing to understand the bigger picture?
Promote awareness of the entire localization process, as well as the full array of content types, quality requirements, and time-sensitive business objectives. Many stakeholders will develop a more realistic sense of their own project’s priority with a deeper sense of context. Pressuring the vendor’s team to do everything at breakneck speed will take its toll on quality and cost overruns as resources start to burn out.

Limit exceptions

Once you develop a prioritization plan that stakeholders understand and commit to, be prepared to push back on requests for exceptions. Everybody needs to ask themselves, how important is my request? Is this just for my convenience, or to demonstrate “I can?”

FTS is like a turbo engine: the model enables powerful compression of turnaround times that can gain competitive advantages, but it will destroy your localization engine to drive every project at top speed all the time. Proper planning and communication between client stakeholders and vendor personnel is the only sustainable way to keep your FTS program operating smoothly and efficiently.