Are Lean Start-Ups the Next Big Thing in Software Development and Localization? Mika Pehkonen is Documentation and Localization Manager at the global security software company F-Secure. Based in Finland, Mika has over 15 years of experience in localization and software and is a frequent speaker at industry events. In this blog interview, Mika speaks to Welocalize’s Louise Law about a new trend in software development using lean start-ups in software development and how this impacts localization.
What are some of the up and coming trends in software development?
Some software companies are embracing the concept of establishing lean start-up groups, within the organization to help product development. The lean start-up movement has not gone completely mainstream; however, for some and F-Secure included, they are seeing real benefits of this new approach to development.
What is a lean start-up and how does a lean start-up development team work?
A lean start-up is a methodology for faster, more targeted product and business development. As a software development model, it involves a small team with cross functional abilities, working to further develop software outside of the usual restrictions. The approach promotes an environment where teams are working outside of the conventional day to day business.
Why does this approach suit software development?
There’s less bureaucracy involved for the team as lean start-ups engage in quick, responsive development to meet customer demand– quicker than agile development. This approach takes on board more customer feedback and the team tends to make more radical changes to the product. Feedback on one element of the product could result in the team reworking that entire feature rather than just fixing it. It’s not dissimilar to the agile method of software development, where agile may work in weekly sprints, a lean start-up development team may do multiple developments a day.
What is the difference to some more traditional development approaches?
Applying the lean start-up model to a development team is another step further away from stealth development where everything was developed in secret, with long product cycles and defined parameters, typically using a waterfall approach. These days, speed and customer feedback matters most. Constant feedback and updates yields better results than long development cycles and releases.
If you have a lean-start up team working on your software, they will be rapidly assembling product, gather customers input using social media, revising the product, release and the cycle starts all over again. Small adjustments to product are iterations and more substantial ones are known as pivots. Using data from the product itself and its download rates, the team can assess the success and failure of any incremental change. For example, do downloads increase if we make this change?
The lean start-up approach uses more data and matrices to advance product development help speed up the process to get more benefits to the customer. For most software customers, they demand surprises; they want to be entertained with more and more functionality and tweaks to the product. We must deliver at the rate they demand.
Is it similar to agile development?
The lean start-up approach takes some of the practices we apply in agile development and takes it one step further. With a lean start-up team, there is a small, independent team which could consist of product developers, designers and marketers – possibly all in the same room. You can make changes fast because everyone is within shouting distance.
If software companies are using lean-start up practices, how does this effect localization?
The localization cycles we use are still one week. We run agile localization cycles with Welocalize. As we introduce a lean start-up approach, the localization team has to work with the development team, not after they have made changes – it’s too late then. The localization team can work on the software and also get documentation involved right at the beginning. Having a lean team means the marketing person is close to the development manager so different content types are more coordinated. If you sim-ship, you get one more pivot point for every language you ship to. Localization-wise, with lean start-up approach, we’re still shipping all target languages on time and it is still achievable to sim-ship even on the smaller, more frequent releases. You could only use the lean start-up approach if you use a MLV – if you used SLVs or just freelancers, you would fail pretty fast. See Welocalize F-Secure case study Predictable + Consistent Software Localization.
Have you experienced any challenges with a lean start-up approach in localization?
As it is a relatively new concept, getting everyone aligned and use to localizing at that pace can be a challenge. Technical documentation and instructions are often marketing driven which needs translating incrementally, just like the code. Even for marketing content in an agile environment, you need weekly sprints and that means changing some current processes and expectations. For a lean start-up model, the marketing materials have to be as responsive as the localized product.
I’d say within a year, a lot more companies will be using this lean start-up approach.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to anyone involved in global software development?
Start localization as soon as possible! When you’re developing smaller, faster and responsive updates, the process is moving so fast, you can’t afford to keep going back for localization purposes and adding languages. Being proactive helps you hit targets and save money. If you want to add languages, it could take weeks. Working agile, with elements of lean start-up, makes you better equipped for change. If localization happens in parallel and bugs are caught, for example, if we catch a bug in the Chinese version, chances are the mistake will be in the source code. Your language resources are helping the source code, helping to find bugs.
And always, always, get a good partnership with a global MLV, like Welocalize, and make them part of the team. Whether your are an agile or lean start-up, you will achieve more and spend less with proactive localization.