Cid works for a German company. From day one, management knew that they wanted their application to be multi-lingual, if nothing else because they knew they needed to offer it in English. So from the ground up, the codebase was designed to make localization easy; resource files contained all the strings, the language specific ones could be loaded dynamically, and even UI widgets could flex around based on locale needs.

In the interests of doing it right, when it came time to make the English version, they even went out and contracted a translation company. A team of professional translators went through the strings, checked through the documentation and the requirements, even talked to stakeholders to ensure accurate translations. The English version shipped, and everyone- company and customers included were happy with the product.

Cid’s employer got a lot of good press- their product was popular in its narrow domain. Popular enough that a Russian company called Инитеч came around. They wanted to use the product, but they wanted a Russian localization.

“No problem,” said the sales beast. “We can make that happen!”

Management was less enthused. When localizing for English, they knew they had a big market, and they knew that it was worth doing it right, but even then, it was expensive. Looking at the bottom line, it just didn’t make sense to put that kind of effort into the project for just one customer.

The sales beast wasn’t about to let this sale slip through their fingers, though. And Инитеч really wanted to use their product. And hey, Инитеч had a few employees who had taken a semester of English in school at some point. They could do the translation! They weren’t even looking to score a deal on support, they’d buy the software and do the translation themselves.

“Free” sounded good, so management gave their blessing. Since the customer was doing all the work, no one put too much thought into timelines, or planning, or quality control. Which meant that timelines slipped, there was no plan for completing the translation, and the quality control didn’t happen until Cid had the bright idea of realizing that co-worker Marya was natively Russian and asked her to take a look at the translations.

“Oh, these are great,” Marya said, “if the translator doesn’t speak either German or Russian.” The translations were roughly equivalent to taking the German original, slapping it through Google Translate to get to English, then eventually migrating to Russian by way of Hindi and Portuguese.

The problems with the translation were escalated up to management, and a bunch of meetings happened to debate what to do. On one hand, these were the translations the customer made, and thus they should be happy with it. On the other, they were terrible, and at the end of the day, Cid’s employer needed to be able to stand behind its product.

At this point, Инитеч was getting antsy. They’d already put a lot of work into doing the translations, and had been trying to communicate the software changes to their users for months. They didn’t have anything at all to show for their efforts.

Someone in the C-level offices made the call. They’d hire a professional translator, but they’d aggressively manage the costs. They laid out a plan. They set a timeline. They established acceptance criteria.

They set their timeline, however, without talking to the translation company. Essentially, they were hoping to defeat the “triangle”: they wanted to have the translation be good, be cheap, and be done fast. Reality stepped in: either they needed to pay more to bring on more translators, or they needed to let timelines slip farther.

What started as a quick sale with only minimal upfront investment stretched out into a year of effort. With everyone rushing but making no progress, mistakes started cropping up. One whole module’s worth of text was forgotten in the scope document agreed to by the translation company. Someone grabbed an old version of the resource file when publishing a test build, which created a minor panic when everything was wrong. Relations with Инитеч started to break down, and the whole process went on long enough that the Инитеч employee which started the purchase changed jobs, and another contact came in with no idea of what was in flight.

Which is why, when the sales beast finally was able to tell Инитеч that they had a successful Russian localization, the contact at Инитеч said, “That… is nice? Is this a sales call? Are you trying to sell us this? We just purchased a similar product from your competitor six months ago.”

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