Understanding the variables

As with project management in several areas, cost,time, and quality are three major components in the management of a translation project. They’re interconnected and in constant tension. Translation clients can’t expect to adjust one of the factors without affecting the others. You should understand these variables and be aware of how they interact in this field to get the best value for money.

“Value for money (VFM): utility derived from every purchase or every sum of money spent. VFM is based not only on the minimum purchase price (economy) but also on the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the purchase.”
– www.businessdictionary.com

  • Cost

In the translation industry, this variable can be seen from either the translators’ or the buyers’ point of view. Translators’ rates are what professionals charge to do the job, whereas the client’s budget is the money allocated for the task. Needless to say, clients and translators don’t always fully agree on this issue: customers usually want to reduce costs, and translators—as with any professional—will seek to be well compensated for their work.

  • Time

This one is quite straightforward: it’s the amount of time allocated for the translation project to be completed. Other common ways of referring to this variable are “deadline” and “turnaround time.” Although it’s usually seen from the client’s perspective (“I need this text by X”), it’s certainly the translator’s concern as well (“I need Y hours/days to deliver this text”). And that’s another area in which tension can arise.

  • Quality

Defining “quality” is usually controversial and depends on the perspective you use.

Common sense dictates that quality in translation means that the final product is accurate, grammatically correct, and in compliance with the client’s instructions (register, use of glossary/style sheet, etc.). However, translators can render a text in different correct ways, depending on the client’s purposes: you can get a very elaborate, polished translation, such as those intended for publication, or a text written without much in the way of style concerns, such as those for understanding only.

Although some might say that the “understanding” end of the spectrum equals poor quality, it’s sometimes all you’re looking for. If your specifications are agreed upon beforehand, and the translator complies with your instructions, s/he will have delivered a high-quality service. Here’s what Chris Durban and Alan Melby say about it in their text “Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity“:

“Sometimes all you want is to get (or give) the general idea of a document (rough translation); in other cases, a polished text is essential. […] In every translation project, the buyer and the translation service provider (translator or translation team) should agree in advance on a set of specifications to be followed while carrying out the project.”

Now, looking from a different perspective, sometimes “quality” is used to refer to the professional’s credentials, expertise, experience, and the like. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that all beginner translators are doomed to deliver poor services, or that every experienced professional is always impeccable. One thing is for sure: everyone expects that more experienced translators deliver better quality—and charge accordingly.