A few weeks ago I was in a $2 Shop listening to a customer berating the sales assistant because the $3 toy they had bought 10 days ago no longer worked. It would have been amusing had it not been for how strident the customer had been with their complaint. Exasperated, the sales assistant gave the customer the choice of a $3 cash refund or a replacement toy making it clear not to expect a longer life span if the toy option was chosen.

What was surprising was that the customer seemed to expect a high quality toy for a rock bottom price. Perhaps they had never heard the old adage of “you get what you pay for”. Ultimately business (of any type) always returns to negotiating a trade-off between price and quality (and, in many cases, speed of delivery).

As an example, imagine that you’re working on a project to launch a new business and need the help of a specialist service provider to move things ahead. You’re short of cash and time and need to find the perfect company to help you. What would you do if the company presented you with these three options?

  • Good quality and fast. That is, they would produce a high quality product and they’d do it quick to meet your deadline. But it would expensive because they’d have to defer or postpone every other job and work on yours exclusively 24/7 to deliver it.
  • Good quality and slow. That is, the quality would be the same as option 1 but it would take longer to complete as it would have to fit in with their other projects already begun. The price would be ok however.
  • Fast and cheap. That is, a more basic, lesser quality product would be delivered that might be ok for launch. It would be a short term solution however and would need to be rebuilt post-launch. But it would be cheap AND it would be delivered on time.

It’s a tough choice but what is great is that the approach is honest and cuts through to the point where clear expectations can be discussed and agreed. It might seem to oversimplify things but in most cases you do have to decide between good, fast and cheap AND you can only pick two. Your decision will vary according to the specific circumstances and will be a function of your timeframe, budget and the expectations of quality from your own customers (internal or external). The trick is in understanding that all three are rarely possible and then setting your expectations accordingly.

So next time you buy an air ticket or a meal, get your tax done or your hair cut, your car serviced, book a courier, hire a tradesman or a new staff member  what combination of good, fast and cheap will you choose? Just remember you can only pick two…


Featured image by Matt Richards