The quality-speed-cost triangle

Published 20th June 2013
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Today’s blog is about a principle which is well-known among professionals in the translation industry, featuring in every translation student’s notebook with bright highlighting, and underlying every reliable professional’s work: the triangle of quality, speed and cost.

As with most occasions in everyday life, it so happens that in business, one cannot have their cake and eat it too. In an ideal business world, high quality products would be delivered to clients as fast as possible and at the very best price. In the realistic language services provider‘s world, achieving all three sides of the quality-speed-cost triangle is often a very challenging, or even unattainable goal. This axiom applies to language services, in the sense that one cannot have a translation of the highest quality, delivered quickly and efficiently, at the lowest of prices. If one aspect is to be emphasised, then there will probably be some extent of compromise to the other two.

In today’s competitive market, many companies see translation as a necessary evil, and the aspect of their business that needs to be as cost-effective as possible. Therefore, they often approach translation agencies with demands that exceed realistic expectations. Let us, here, examine the way in which the correlations among the 3 sides of the quality-speed-price triangle may affect the outcome of a translation project:

Quality: Creating a high-quality translation can be more cost-intensive, since it involves working with professionals with high qualifications, who value their services and work for what is considered higher prices. Moreover, urgency might affect translation quality for the worse, as rushed endeavours might not be as sophisticated as usual.

Speed: As mentioned above, swift delivery often entails less accuracy and compromises quality. Likewise, it usually comes with urgency fees charged by translators who have to squeeze assignments into their already busy schedule. If someone guarantees you maximum quality, cheap prices and delivery at the speed of lightning, maybe you should be a bit concerned about the outcome…just a thought.

Price: Cutting on costs is often at the cost of both of the remaining factors in the translation process. After all, if a good translator starts charging half of her /his regular price, he or she will not be able to earn enough for basic needs and would eventually go out of business. The same can be said for delivery time. Delivering a product with great speed requires conscious effort and consequently higher charges, if only quality standards are to be kept.

The bottom line is that it does not make much sense to try and attain this triangle in the first place. If a professional can perform high-quality translations, why would he or she sell it at the same price as a low quality one? The same applies to speed: if a linguist can translate faster than others, why charge the same price as someone who needs twice as much time to deliver the final product with the same quality? At the end of the day, what clients eventually realise is that they only get what they’ve paid for and this is what makes this triangle unattainable in the first place.

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