What Is “Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two” in Project Management?

Fast, cheap, and good: pick (or choose) two refers to a Project Management term that Project Managers can only deliver, in any one project, 2 out of the 3 main constraints (schedule, cost, scope) according to the initial project plan. It is unknown who first came up with this term.

In nearly every project, Project Managers are faced with a tough decision: Should they compromise on the schedule, the cost, or the quality (e.g. scope)? Below is an explanation of every case:

Cheap and Good

In this case the Project Manager has chosen to compromise on the schedule in favor of cost and scope, hence the project will be finished late. This is the rarest scenario, as usually a project finished behind schedule is not cheap, and ends up costing more (often much more) than its initial budget. Smart Project Managers usually do not choose “cheap and good” simply because there is a very high chance that the project will end up expensive, bad, and way behind schedule. A very late project might also get killed.

Fast and Cheap

This will result in a “cheap” project in all the meanings of the word. The Project Manager opts to favor time and cost at the expense of the scope. This means that the end product/service will not be delivered according to the original scope: either the quality will be greatly reduced or some planned (key) features will not make it in the released version (in case of a software project). Needless to say, this is the most common scenario across the board, and is the favorite for both the Project Manager and the stakeholders:

  • The Project Manager will be regarded as someone who “gets the job done”.
  • The project stakeholders will be satisfied that they have a product/service delivered on time, albeit missing some features.

Negative effects for internal projects are usually minimal, however, for projects delivering a product or services to an end client, then the reputation of the company might suffer on the long term. Having said that, it is amazing to see that a lot of mega-companies follow this same strategy, and get away with it (the famous “release now, patch later” mentality). These companies are still growing and expanding.

Fast and Good

This is the preferred choice of Project Managers in case of construction projects, where adding more resources makes sense and can greatly accelerate the speed of the project, but, of course, at an increased, condensed cost. In case of software projects, this approach is not practical, as adding more resources increases the communication channels, ultimately reducing the velocity of the project (In general, Project Managers are advised not to take this approach for software projects).

Sadly, in almost all cases, scope (and consequently quality) is the first constraint targeted by Project Managers. The reason for that is that scope is traditionally non-measurable, as opposed to both the schedule and the cost. Stakeholders are more open to accept a reduction in the quality or features in the end product or service, than an increased cost or a prolonged schedule. This is the reason why so many products out there don’t turn out as people initially expected.

© 2010 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.


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