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A dirty little secret I learned in MBA school

Okay, it’s not really dirty, or little for that matter. And it’s really not secret. But many of the leaders and managers I work with have forgotten it or have never heard of it. It’s the fast-cheap-good reality of decision making. You are always bound by the “pick two” rule. Because there is no such thing as producing a fast, good and cheap project. You can’t have all three, ever.

Here’s how it goes …

You can design, produce, create something quickly and to a high standard, but it will not be cheap.

You can design, produce, create something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.

You can design, produce, create something of high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time.

This fast-cheap-good tension is omnipresent for leaders and managers. Effective leaders and managers understand this and don’t fight it. Rather, they figure out how to make the best decisions given the circumstances they are dealing with while knowing the trade-offs they are making. They then spend time and energy managing expectations of their staff and clients.

For a good fast-cheap-good example, read this story about the NASA faster, better, cheaper program.

If you really want to read more, here’s a good paper published by the IEEE, “The incommensurability of ‘faster, better, cheaper’: NASA’s rhetorical bind.”

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Jeff Ribeira

I’m glad you brought this up because it really is completely disregarded by many a manager. I love this infographic, and even though it refers to graphic design, the application across many fields is limitless:

Peter Sperry

One aspect of this issue often forgotten is the need to define quality in terms of utility. Entirely too many projects come in behind schedule and over budget in an effort to add every possible “enhancement” to what should have been a relatively simple product. The project manager than trots out the “pick two” rule to explain the cost and schdule overruns, when in fact they could have delivered a qualtiy project on time and within budget by remembering the KISS principle.

Allen Sheaprd

Scheduals – cost ? I’m a techie 🙂 IMO it is the goal and result that count. If there is not enough time or equipment then failure is assured. Not only does the web site have to ru – it has to run fast enough to be worth it.

John Evans

Sort of puts the lie to the ” doing more with less ” platitude that is continually trotted out. The fact is that you can’t do more with less and do it well.