The Good-Quick-Cheap Project Rule

There are 3 ideal outcomes when delivering a web project or any other type of project for your client:

1. It’s good
The application does what it’s supposed to do in an efficient, logical and time-saving manner.

2. It’s delivered quickly
The project is delivered on-time or ahead of schedule.

3. It’s delivered cheaply
The project is delivered at a reasonable cost. Or the benefits outweigh the price by a considerable margin and the client is completely satisfied.

As you would expect, most clients demand all three outcomes. However, in almost all cases, only two can ever be achieved. It doesn’t matter which approach you take, one objective will slip:

If a great project is delivered on-time, it won’t be cheap.

If a good project is completed for a reasonable cost, the delivery date will slip.

If the project is delivered on time at a cheap cost, it won’t be a great system.

It’s an easy ‘rule’ to remember, explain and understand so it could help when you’re faced with unreasonable client expectations. You could ask your client to choose whether good, quick and cheap is their top priority — it may help them focus on what’s really important and provide you with useful scheduling and budgeting information.

Educating clients and managing expectations is one of the hidden costs of the web design and development industry. Simple explanations such as this may help you deal with awkward situations.

Win an Annual Membership to Learnable,

SitePoint's Learning Platform

  • http://randomwisdom.tumblr.com pbaarn

    Hi Craig,

    I understand what you’re saying, but I would put it a little differently. I thing it’s very possible to deliver a good project quickly and cheaply. I do it regularly, by convincing the client of all three elements.

    Good: I keep things simple and focus on value and benefit for them, so they feel that what they’re getting is good for them.

    Quick: I manage their time expectations with a good plan. I don’t want the client to just wait for me to finish. I want them to be active. Preparing content, testing, training, putting new procedures in place, anything. When you wait, time moves slowly. When you’re active, time moves quickly.

    Cheap: Again I focus on the value and benefits. By keeping it simple and focussed I also work in keeping down the cost, but my focus is on value and things like ROI.

    It’s when the client wants the project cheaper, quicker or better that you get into a balancing act, like you mention. But the rules you mention are exactly the beliefs I would want to get rid of. If a project is delivered on time (quickly) at low cost (cheaply) it can be a “great system”. The definition of a “great system” for me is not “big and complex”, but “to the point, effective and delivering value”. Sometimes it will be require a big and complex solution, but at other times it can be low cost and easy to deliver.

    So I would never start from the assumption that you can’t do good And quick And cheap. Only when you can’t convince the client that you’re project is all three, you have to start balancing.

    My 2 Cents.

    Paul Baarn

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always been a firm believer of the good-fast-cheap model, but Paul makes a very good observation that what it’s really about is managing client perception and expectations. Since many clients don’t know what it takes to get their ideas on the web (hence your involvement), a little education can go a long way to bringing their expectations more in-line with reality.

  • Anonymous

    I think those words (good, quick and cheap) are dangerous.
    The criteria for cost and quality is subjective. Therefore, setting a quality expectation is critical to ensuring that the final product is acceptable. Usually, the word ‘cheap’ is implies something less than a high-quality result. Starting out with a negative can cause also cause a negative result, or at best, cause you to work harder to acheive a positive result.
    I agree with the previous logger who suggest the use of a plan. I think the plan is critical for managing any project that have these three criteria (time, cost, quality) as a result.
    What I have also learned is that, as the criteria is subjective, your plan must be fluid and flexible enough to accomodate change; and revised and distributed appropriately to ensure all involved ‘stay on the same page.’
    I remember thinking that the three objectives were not possible, as Craig implies. However, as I have grown I also realize that a good developer must develop good project management skills. Doing so will make it easier to manage customer/client expectations.
    I believe that in itself is not a science, its an artform…

  • Anonymous

    I remember years ago walking into a tyre service centre and the salesman saying “I know what you want – tyres that will stick to the road like glue, last forever, and cost nothing”.
    This is classic stuff I learned back in the mid 90s. There’s fast, there’s good, and there’s cheap – pick any two. Of course this is a gross generalisation but only in an ideal world can you provide all three. As soon as you start pushing the boundaries (subjective or otherwise) then the truth of this rule becomes apparent.