What to look for in a vendor Program Manager

Hello there! You may remember me… Lea, formerly employed at a company who turned me from a marketing lead into what was essentially a localization manager.

After all the pain I endured at that firm and being let go, I found a new gig at a bigger company, thanks to my recent training in the basics of localization.

After a few weeks as the Marketing Lead, I was promoted to Localization Manager.

In my new role, I was tasked with choosing a great vendor. I realized that getting a strong PM is key to having a successful working relationship. So I asked my colleagues in the industry what questions to ask my prospective vendor to ensure I get a strong PM.

Here’s what my peers told me – some of the qualities to look for in a vendor PM may seem obvious, but if you want your localization team to work efficiently, the PM should possess all of the following traits.

Knowledge of a foreign language

Your PM may not necessarily be a native English speaker, which can be an asset for understanding linguistic issues your team will be faced with. However, perfect command of verbal and written English is a must have.

If your PM is a native English speaker, fluency or near fluency in another language will be an asset for your team. Having lived abroad is also a plus, to understand the nuances of cultural differences.

Perfect understanding of your SLA and your expectations

An SLA can have dozens of pages to read, however every detail counts! The last thing you want is a PM telling you your scope is not within their capacities.

Furthermore, a PM should be fully versed in your expectations on every aspect of their deliverables.

A PM needs to be surrounded by a solid team

There is a big difference between a Project Manager (PjM) and a Program Manager (PM).

A PM should not be shuffling files around, but oversee the health of your account. If you notice your vendor PM is sending you deliverables, that’s a red flag. Your PM doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with deliverables and shouldn’t be the only one working on your account.

Familiarity with various TMS systems

With about 20 Translation Management Systems out there, your PM should be familiar with the most popular ones. That doesn’t mean your PM has to be a TMS expert, in fact a reliable vendor needs to have engineers who have worked with several TMS and support their PMs in case of tricky issues (sudden workflow issues corrupting or hindering their deliverables, for instance).

Knowledge of new trends and work methodologies

The localization industry is moving at the speed of light. With continuous localization being the norm in the tech industry, MT is now a reliable option which your PM needs to be willing to explore for some content types.

Your vendor PM needs to be not only familiar with new trends, but also with new working methodologies used on the client side, such as agile cycles.

Communication genius

Last but not least, your PM needs to excel in written and verbal communication. They need to have the right skills to address all of your expectations. Below are some of the communication traits which your PM has to possess:

  • Responsive and creative

Multiple issues happen in a product localization lifecycle – be it in daily releases or in a site launch. You are looking for your vendor to come to your rescue as much as they can, not someone who will ask you what they should do.

A good PM needs to have the capacity to brainstorm with their team and organization at large to come up with a plan B.

  • Familiar with your team

In case an issue arises, your vendor PM should know whom to contact. They usually set up a communication document with their team’s contact info and yours.

However, nothing can replace face-to-face introduction and regular on-site meetings. The ideal PM will offer to come to your office to get to know your team and their main points of contact.

  • Personable and calm

Crazy things happen on the client side. Compressed deadlines for a site launch is one of the common issues.

The localization team is likely to become stressed out, starting with the PjMs, the engineers and linguists responsible for the translation quality.


You don’t want to have a stressed out PM on the vendor side. Instead, you need someone who will listen, understand your concerns and reassure you that they will do their best to accommodate your new requirements.

  • Proactive and strategic

Regular QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) need to happen between both parties. Localization teams, especially in start-ups, won’t necessarily have the time to set them up. A good strategy on the vendor side is to schedule on-site status reviews, providing the current state of the account along with metrics and action items.

  • Transparent and accountable

Mistakes happen on the vendors’ side. It could be a missed deliverable or poor quality in a specific locale.

No matter what the issue is, a good vendor PM should always acknowledge the mistake and analyze its root cause.

It could be an issue with the file handling, in which case preventative measures should be taken with the PjMs and the engineering team. If the file is of substandard quality, it might be due to a tight schedule leading to the review stage being skipped or a lack of resources.

Ideally, seamless communication between the vendor’s PjMs and their PM should allow the client to be made quickly aware of those issues to try and find a compromise. If the PM is caught by surprise because of a communication breakdown, all financial penalties disclosed in the SLA should be accepted. Bargaining will break the trust of the client and should be avoided at all cost.

In summary, it seems like you are looking for someone who is impossible to find. But an  experienced PM will always choose to work for a reputable vendor.

Feel free to contact me at sabine@spartansoftwareinc.com if you want to talk more about what to look for in a vendor Program Manager.