About a year ago I was chatting away with a fellow business owner about small business mistakes and wisdom, when he offered some wisdom that was passed down to him from another successful business owner. This advice has always stayed with me and provided me with direction when I was hesitating about completing a task. The principle was:
Success in any task can be gauged across three measures:
- Fast: How quickly the task can be completed
- Cheap: How inexpensively the task is to complete
- Good: How ‘on specification’, slick, robust and error free the completed task can be
Of the three measures, you will only be able to achieve success in two. Thankfully, you can choose any combination of two measures, you just can’t achieve success across all three.
Confused? Or did you just open the article and scroll straight to the pretty picture? Perhaps you’re even humming a famous Meat Loaf song. Well, whatever thoughts are floating around, let’s take a more in depth examination of the cheap-fast-or-good combinations. There’s only three, so let’s get in to the dangers and when to use each:
Completing Tasks Cheap and Fast
Do you want your task completed as cheaply and quickly as possible? It can be done, but it will be at the expense of being produced as slick and robust as possible. This means that your task could have errors, be incompatible with other work or be delivered inconsistently with your brand.
“It’s not that hard. Just ask someone to do it.” Typical call to arms of the cheap and fast solution
Examples of tasks that are best suited to ‘cheap and fast’ solutions include:
- Tasks that are autonomous, repetitive and require minimal supervision
- Tasks that have been completed by the same person or supplier previously
- Tasks that you are familiar with and can therefore step in to change or provide direction
Completing Tasks Fast and Good
Yeah ok, the title of this section isn’t great English, but you know what I mean. Everyone wants good work done as quickly as possible. It’s only natural. But good work is going to cost you because you will likely need to engage someone with a higher level of skill to get the job finished in a flash. Either that or you’re going to ask someone to drop everything they’re doing to focus on for your OMG-DO-THIS-LIKE-NOW-CMON-SKIP-LUNCH.pdf
“I need it done now. The Client is coming!” Typical call to arms of the fast and good solution
Examples of tasks that are best suited to ‘fast and good’ solutions include:
- Extremely important customer facing problems that have unexpectedly reared their head
- High stakes, time dependent tasks where you have little knowledge of the subject area
Completing Tasks Cheap and Good
Yep, my English teachers are still shaking their heads at the poor grammar.
This is the ideal task benefit combination. By taking the time to plan out what is exactly needed and when, you can save yourself a fortune. When planning, understand that the task is going to take longer than expected and build this time buffer into your task plan. The ultimate end result is that the work is delivered inexpensively, on specification and within your allotted time frame.
“I know exactly what I want, and I have a bit of time up my sleeve.” Typical call to arms of the cheap and good solution
Examples of tasks that are best suited to ‘cheap and good’ solutions include:
- When you’ve taken the time to draft the complete specifications needed
- When you know your time frames and are assured that you can comfortably deliver within these times
- When the work is of an ongoing nature and following a tried and tested system
- When you can provide ongoing supervision if needed
So next time you’re assessing your tasks and either want to get them done quickly, cheap or properly take a moment about which two areas you will focus on.
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A well written article, as usual, with lots of clarity and useful info. I also enjoy your sense of humor throughout with the Meat Loaf link and the bad English references.
You’ve highlighted some good points here, and I think you have indirectly highlighted another good point… good planning in business will save you cash and promote better quality.
Thanks for sharing,
Great article David.
I totally agree, good planning is the key to success. A little more time spent on the planning can save you money in the long run.
An interesting article…. fast, cheap, good. Depending on the circumstances, the requirements change. Article well worth reading, thanks for posting.
A thought provoking post, David. Good article – which begs the question of whether it was done cheap or done fast
It paints an interesting picture of the opportunity cost of doing a task in a particular way. I’m sure I’ll be using this framework to help assess things in future.
Nice article David.
If time, money or energy are in short supply, I guess a quick cheap fix can be okay – as long as you understand the job will eventually have to be done properly.
It’s like driving home with the spare tyre on – pretty soon you’ll have to go and buy a new one!
English aside, its a great article about the work process. Be it fast, cheap or good! I like to outsource what I dont know how to do, and keep doing what I do know. One day I would love to be able to do what I want, and outsource the rest!
I think its important to have good quality work, and only have fast work completed when I am up against a huge deadline.
While I was in high school, I left everything to the last minute. My teachers used to say “if you had put some effort into it, you would have good quality work” !!
Glad to hear you all found my article helpful. Thanks for your comments