The “quality triangle” is a very basic, yet powerful way to describe the relationships between the three main dimensions of translation services: quality, time, and price. What it means is that something always has to give. That is, whenever you overemphasize one of the dimensions, the triangle loses equilibrium and two other dimensions suffer. I think this triangle concept perfectly applies to our services, and this post provides recommendations for those clients who wish to receive a perfectly balanced service. The insights I’m offering are general observations, i.e. they don’t apply in every situation. For example, a lower rate doesn’t necessarily lead to lower quality, and so on. The key message is, however, that it’s more likely to do so than not.
Overemphasizing translation quality: Higher quality of work requires investing more time in various types of quality-related activities such as editing by a second linguist, asking your client to clarify ambiguous phrases, checking terminology consistency, or automatic quality assurance check. Among these activities, editing is probably the most time-intensive process because it involves a rigorous, time-consuming check by another person. While editing itself significantly increases the turnaround time, managing this process between several team members also adds transition time. So, whenever you put quality first, you can expect a longer deadline. And since more energy and resources are typically necessary for producing a higher quality translation, your translation provider is also likely to expect a higher price. For example, let’s assume a company like ours produces 500 words of English to Russian translation per hour, thereby making $50 per hour. If a client requests a top-notch quality translation, e.g. for a business proposal, the productivity may drop by as much as 50 percent. The team will then want to double the rate per word, or else it will make just $25 per hour.
Overemphasizing urgency: The quality of work suffers under tight deadlines as less time is available for the quality-oriented activities. Moreover, if things go sideways (and by Murphy’s law, they often do), but the project schedule is so straight-jacketed that every minute counts, quality may drop in an order of magnitude because working under pressure is a major source of error. To avoid or at least minimize the negative impact, a translation team may offer to work overtime so that it literally creates additional time required to do a good job. While the overtime does help to ensure an appropriate level of quality, it may also wreak havoc in the team’s short-term schedule and usually forces folks to work beyond standard hours or on weekends. This additional effort is compensated by a higher price, usually in a form of a surcharge to the standard rate such as 50% or 100%.
Overemphasizing cost: I think this is the worst-case scenario where quality typically takes the biggest hit because by imposing a lower rate may discourage a vendor from doing their best job. One common reason for requesting a price reduction is a volume discount. Although volume is indeed a legitimate basis for a discount under certain circumstances, such discount isn’t quite as clear-cut as e.g. a wholesale discount. In fact, volume doesn’t always translate into time savings that could justify any discount. A team facing this kind of situation may want to avoid financial loss by increasing productivity. And with translation, higher productivity very often results in lower quality, up to what I believe to be an apocalyptic scenario—involving a less competent translator and/or eliminating the independent review step. By the same token, the deadline may suffer because the team is likely to have better-paying jobs in the pipeline and may, therefore, put your project on the back burner until capacity for low-margin work is available.
For more information about Velior’s translation services designed to strike a balance between the three dimensions, please see this page.