Fast Is Slow. Cheap Is Expensive.
Hey, what’s wrong?
Wait. Let me guess. You bit on a suggestion to save money on [insert product or service] and everything went off the rails. You’re over budget and past deadline. Your gut told you not to do it. But the savings were irresistible. Been there. Trust.
Obviously, you want to deliver on time and respect your client’s budgetary constraints. You know the rule of the iron triangle: fast, cheap, good—pick two of three. There is a fundamental problem with this rule: when would you ever opt to deliver something that isn’t good? Quality is a universal requirement. Also, neither “fast” nor “cheap” are all that desirable. Why? According to a number of unspoken rules, and untold failures, fast is slow and cheap is expensive. Let us count the ways.
An obvious example of the high cost of cheap (and fast) is fast food. Yes, it’s cheap. But over time, the toll on your health is high (just ask Morgan Spurlock). Hiring the cheaper contractor might be tempting—until the roof falls in.
You can’t compute how high the cost of cheap can be until you know the story behind the Boeing 737 Max, now grounded after a pair of catastrophic disasters. A bug in a piece of software designed to keep the plane from stalling is widely suspected as the cause—software that Boeing had outsourced overseas to cut costs and increase production bandwidth. According to Bloomberg, Boeing outsourced its 737 Max software to $9-an-hour engineers.
Since then, the financial toll has been staggering. Almost overnight, $6 billion dollars evaporated from Boeing’s market cap. That doesn’t include billions more to settle the lawsuits or the fact that aviation experts believe Boeing must immediately address the crisis or jeopardize the long-term stability of the company.
Oscar Wilde was definitely onto something when he defined a cynic as ”a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” In real life and in business, the value of something is more important than its price. “Cheap” might have a lower price tag. It also has a higher cost. And vice versa. Just consider what happens when you’re cheap with your attention and how expensive that can be when the client isn’t happy with your efforts.
Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast
The slogan of Special Forces operators—slow is smooth and smooth is fast—applies to infantry combat. The most effective teams advance slowly through an urban environment. You’ve likely seen it a million times in the movies—that stealth, decisive half-walk half-run. The idea being that if you can’t move, you’re pinned, but move too quickly, and you can be outflanked.
The Special Forces slogan isn’t an excuse for analysis paralysis. More like a shield from irrational exuberance. The kind that left behind so many tech startup casualties during the dot-com boom. Dazzled by the hype—and lavish, million-dollar Vegas launch parties featuring musical performances by LeAnn Rimes—speculators could not be talked out of their enthusiasm. The only thing faster than their rapid-fire decision to invest was the speed at which their money vanished down a rabbit hole.
When software is late to ship, the temptation for managers is to speed things up by adding human-power. Brooks’ Law—the observation that adding more developers to a late software project makes it later—states otherwise. You might assume that more people equals more work getting done. Brooks’ law counters that adding more people yields more lines of communication which, as the theory goes, slows things down. This illustration drives home the point:
Makes sense, right? If you’re Dave Nicollette (whose blog at leadingagile.com provided the above graphic) you should take the path of uncommon sense. When Dave’s manager told him a project was falling behind schedule and asked how many more he needed to add to the team, Dave suggested removing two. Lack of manpower wasn’t the problem: an excess of communication was. Once the team was reduced from eight to six, the pace picked up and the product shipped on time.
The Way of the Bow
Don’t believe it? Ask yourself this: what choice is there? No matter what the iron triangle says, the agency field is crowded and delivering high quality, on time, at a reasonable price is non-negotiable. When you think about it, who would ever say that except someone you probably shouldn’t hire? Someone, in short, who is caught up in outcomes and not paying close attention to the process. Therein lies the secret.
When you invest in the process. You know, like kyudo, the ancient and sacred Japanese art of archery.
On its surface, kyudo is fairly simple: just aim and shoot. Ah, but there’s more. Kyudo does judge based on hits or misses. Kyudo is about the Shagyo, or process. Successful kyudo is about good posture, perfect balance and laser focus of energy on the lower abdomen. When the process is sound, the hit is accurate. If it’s not, according to the philosophy, take some time to reflect on your error.
Golfers unknowingly practice kyudo with their backswing. Science actually backs up the theory. Researchers at the University of Plymouth studied how fast people learned basic golf skills based on their backswing. Test subjects who could consistently replicate their backswing perfected their techniques twice as fast as those who couldn’t.
How we stay focused on the process. When our business development team-members approach a new client, it is not with a sale in mind. Because what if they don’t actually need what we’re selling. Our approach begins simply: how do we help you do what you need to do which, in most cases, is to grow your sales and online presence.
If this produces new clients for us, all the better.
As with all rules, there are exceptions and limits. Slow might be smooth but too slow might be dead. In other words, don’t mistake “slow is smooth” with “paralysis by analysis.” Our approach is to continually move forward—but cautiously. We’ve had great success balancing careful assessment with audacity.