Better, Faster, and Cheaper

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Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is out on vacation.

You’ve probably all heard the mantra of “good, fast, or cheap – pick two”. It’s sometimes called the project management triangle or the iron triangle. It’s a saying used to force clients to make decisions (tradeoffs) and it works on managers too. It works because it’s a great visual, who can argue with it? Yet, for reasons that possibly defy common sense, it’s a saying that I’ve never quite believed in it. Do you?

Even if you do, I challenge you to stop and re-think it.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who had purchased a 15” laptop with a 1TB drive, 16g of memory, I7 processor, for about $800. Isn’t that better, faster, and cheaper than most anything you could have bought five years ago? Imagine the one before was not quite as good, not quite as fast (yes, maybe not the kind of fast we mean here) and cost $1000. The design team was told to build something better, faster, and cheaper. Did they do it? Where did they not do it?

Does the triangle only apply to new products and new problems rather than iteratively evolving ones? Does it only apply to work we do in IT (or perhaps don’t want to do)? Does the triangle perhaps only apply to average teams? What happens if you have a superstar – could they possibly do it better, faster, and cheaper?

My goal here isn’t to suggest miracles are always possible. Hard problems take time. Building quality solutions and testing them takes more time than coding a hack, and if nothing else, time almost always equates to more cost in our world. No, what I’m challenging you to do is to avoid reducing conversations to “pick two” when sometimes the right person with the right idea might well be able to see a way to achieve all three.

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