Localization and Internationalization of Software

We are living in a globalized world. Globalization, and the corresponding terminology is used with different meanings. In the context of this article, I understand globalization as something, which is economically positive:

  • From the macro-economic perspective, globalization, and free-trade are beneficial to all participants. Free trade allows each country to specialize its resources into areas with a comparative advantage (see → (de) Ricardo-Modell, and → (en) David-Recardo). This specialization leads to economic benefits.
  • From the micro-economic perspective globalization is beneficial as well. Many companies worldwide generate a large portion of their incomes by selling their products abroad (In → Why Globalize? on www.lisa.org can you find data for Microsoft). Without the possibility to market products abroad, these companies would loose a large portion of their revenue.

Technical Globalization

From the technical perspective, globalization comprises all activities that are required to create products, which can be marketed abroad. The following activities are involved:

  • Internationalization: Taking all product requirements together (national and international), and generalizing them, you create a comon platform. This platform allows reuse in the different countries. This reuse leads to cost efficiency.
  • Localization: You adapt the international platform to local needs (language, navigation, functions, legislation, etc).

In → What Is Globalization? www.lisa.org describes a detailed model, and indirectly comes to the following formula:

  • Long version: Globalization = Internationalization + Localization
  • Short version: G11N = I18N + L10N (where the figures depict the number of characters)

Global Product Management

Global Product Management is as important as the product management for local markets/products, which are typically described. Here a sort of business case:

„Can you supply me withvidence that internationalization saves companies money?

Anecdotal evidence from many, many people over the years consistently indicates that proper internationalization reduces the cost of subsequent localization by about 50% and reduces the time needed for localization by about half. Another way of looking at the issue is that if you don’t fix a problem during internationalization, you will have to fix it repeatedly in each localized version. An error that would have cost $1000 to fix during the internationalization phase would then cost $20,000 to fix during localization, and, if the fix is not then rolled back to the source, might cost another $20,000 the next time a version of the project is localized.“ – www.lisa.org
Globally, you use methods, which are comparable to those used locally. However, they become a special flavor. In global product management, you – for instance – collect requirements from different customers in different markets/languages. Or, you roll the information about the products out to different recipients/in different languages. This alone requires a slightly different approach.


In my experiences, a global PM (organization) for software faces at least the following special challenges:
  • You need a mixture of different characters from different countries to be able to understand the mindset of you different customers. It is thus essential that you build a department with an open, „international“ mindset, and with international collegues.
  • Most requirements start locally, often in lead markets. On the other hand, it is not always possible to gather a complete international view of each requirement. Therefor you often start to develop, before being able to design the complete international part of your product. This – on the other hand – requires from your organization that you put processes in place, which support iterations.
  • You need to find a proper balance between local adaption, and international basis. On the one-hand side it would be helpful to centralize as much as possible, on the other hand, it is important to maintain the local contact, even if this would be more expensive.
  • As the example of grey markets shows, customers are internationally connected as well. This means that you need to think about pricing and conditions from an international perspective as well.

Further Reading

The following links provide you with additional reading:

Das Original dieses Artikels ist auf Der Produktmanager erschienen (©Andreas Rudolph). Regelmäßige Artikel gibt es über die (→Mailingliste), oder indem Sie →mir auf Twitter folgen. In der Online Version finden Sie hier die versprochenen weiterführenden Links:

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