Project Management with Software Applications

by Crystal Lee, PMP

One Application, Multiple Languages


As a project manager, you will probably be working on a software development project at some point in your career. You most likely already have a good understanding of the development and testing processes in the software development life cycle. It is equally important to understand what is involved in translating a new software application into another language.

There are a few translation-related terms and their abbreviations you should know.

    • Localization (L10n) is the process of translating text messages or numbers/dates/time formats to a specific language or country. (The abbreviation for this word and the next two consist of the first and last letters of the word and the number of letters between them. The capital “L” is used to distinguish it from the lower-case “i ”.)


    • Internationalization (i18n) is the process of preparing your software or your website for localization. A correctly internationalized application is designed so that different languages and formats can be displayed with little to no engineering or source code changes.


    • Globalization (g11n) is the combination of international and localization.


    • Unicode is a system of assigning characters to numbers and then changing them to computer-readable format. There are a number of past and present systems that are in use, and Unicode is the industry-standard format. There are about 100,000 Unicode characters at the moment.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) also has a character set which is widely used.


    • UTF (Unicode Transformation Format) is a byte-level computer-readable format used to store Unicode. There are three types of UTF storage formats: UTF-8 (1 byte/8 bits), UTF-16 (2 bytes/16 bits), and UTF-32 (32/bits/4 bytes). All of the UTF options have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the languages being represented and programming language of the application.


The same project management principles you use on the overall project should be used to manage translation tasks. Doing the preparation work to define translation scope, schedule and budget will lead to a better finished product that can be used (read: purchased) in other parts of the world. The following sections will provide some basic project management principles that can be applied to translation projects, plus some pointers on working with companies that provide translation services.

Project Management for Translations: Scope

Scope control during the translation process goes hand in hand with scope control for the application – changes need to be controlled. For instance, rushing in a new requirement to add a pulldown menu may require translating text for the web page, the user guide, and a new screen shot may need to be generated.

It is best to make a list of all items that need to translated and make sure everyone knows they are under scope control; some items that are commonly translated are listed below.

Application Elements:

    • Menus and Banners on web pages


    • Error Messages


    • Emails that are sent to users by the application


    • Database entries which may be accessed by the application


    • Graphics on web pages that contain text


    • Help Screens


Training, Marketing or Promotional Material:

    • Installation Manuals


    • User Guides


    • Computer-Based Training (CBT)


    • Brochures


    • Slides or Presentations


    • Videos


A good practice with any software project is to create an Application Glossary that contains definitions that are used throughout the application. The glossary can be provided to the translators and will help them to keep a consistent message.

Project Management for Translations: Schedule

It is important to develop a detailed schedule, so that developers know when they need to submit text for the next translation cycle. As you can see, it takes some time to get through one translation cycle:

    1. Submit text for translation.


    1. Receive translated text and integrate into application.


    1. Perform QA, or linguistic testing, on the translated text.


    1. Send corrections back to the translation company.


    1. Receive re-translated text, re-integrate into application, and test again.


Translation work must be timed so that all changes are reflected in the translation, but early enough so that deliverables can be finished before the application go-live. This is difficult if the development team continues to work on bug fixes discovered through quality assurance testing, user acceptance testing, or linguistic testing on the translated application. The challenge is to determine when the last programming change will occur and whether it will require a change in the source documentation, and thus the translated materials down the line.

Remember that you will be dealing with translators in other countries, so factor in time changes, holidays, and weekends if you are trying to submit text for translation or get translated text back on a very tight schedule.

Project Management for Translations: Budget

A good translation company will work closely with you to build a detailed budget for your translation project. Your translation costs will vary depending on the number of deliverables, and the scope of the application. Translation costs are relative — US$100,000 is a small percentage of the project which has a budget of US$20 million, but it is a huge percentage if the project has a budget of US$1 million. Your quotation may contain cost estimates for the following line items:

    • Translation: Text components will be charged by the word or page. Cost can range from five to 30 cents or more per word.


    • Project Management: Your quotation should include a charge for the translation company’s project management services. If those services are included in the price, make sure that the contract specifically contains the verbiage saying so.


    • Desktop Publishing (DTP): If your source document for you will be using a desktop publishing program such as FrameMaker, the translator will need to return the text to you in the same format, which may require DTP work on their end. You may also request output in other file formats, such as UTF-8 or Unicode. It is also good practice to have the translator provide a finished document in the form of a PDF file.


    • Linguistic Testing: Unless you have qualified people in-house, you may want to have the translation company do the QA, or linguistic testing, on the live application using the translated languages as the interface. Linguistic testing should not be done by the same people who did the translations; it should also be done before the application goes live.



Choosing the Right Translation Company

When it comes to choosing a translation company, use your experience in vendor and contract management to make the right selection. The following points will help you to determine the right company for your needs.

    • Use an established translation company with a track record. Unless you are absolutely sure of the quality you will get, be careful of using language schools, “friends” of friends, or people who do translations “on the side.” In some cases they may not have the project management skills, or linguistic, business, and technical background to do your job justice.


    • Translators should be native speakers who reside in the various countries. You might ask for the resumes of the translators, especially if they are freelancers.


    • The translation company should have a well-defined workflow for their translation services. Ask about the company’s document storage, backup procedures, and if they have an FTP site where you can submit large documents.


    • A good translation company will use translation memory software. This is a database that stores both the source material and the translation in one place. Using translation memory makes the job of the translators much easier, decreases costs, and ensures consistency so that the same text is not retranslated differently when it comes to the next software release.


If you take the time to find the right translation company, you might just have a business partner for life. The right company will help you to build a consistent image, get your deliverables done on time, and ensure high quality on your translations. So on that note — Adios, Zai Jian, Namaste, and Auf Wiedersehen!

If you would like more information on metrics management, send an email to We welcome your questions, comments and feedback.


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