Only the Good (and Fast and Cheap) Die Young

My bud John Quarto-vonTivadar tells me there’s an old adage among software developers: “You can have it Fast, you can have it Good, or you can have it Cheap. Pick Two.” In short, you can’t have it all. Try to have it all and you set yourself up for Failure and a Dead Project.

Funny how we come to accept this as a perfectly valid philosophy when it comes to our development projects. Especially funny when the fortunes of our online businesses are on the line.

Given the high project failure rate in our industry – by some estimates, over 70 percent – I wonder if this Pick Two Philosophy is nothing more than a crutch – a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot way to shift the blame when things go up the Swanee.

Know what I think? It’s time for a Pick Three Philosophy!

What idiot’s going to ask the customer – the dude or dudette for whom you are developing a project – which of these three options he or she can forego?

Of course the customer wants it Fast. Like, how often do you hear, “Sally, I see the ACME project – on which the future of this company depends – is 7 months overdue, but don’t worry. Just finish it off whenever you get around to it”?

Of course the customer wants it Good. “Hey, our people are certified with so many acronyms they can’t possible design poorly or write bad code.”

Of course the customer wants it Cheap. Whoever heard of wanting it Expensive?

And of course, no developer wants to end up with egg on his face when he’s linked to the option that was sacrificed.

But why is it that the customer is all too often excluded from the development equation? The clients for whom folks develop projects make decisions every day about balancing resources with needs … can we possibly think they simply won’t be able to get it?

When all is said and done, the Pick Two Philosophy is little more than a handy way to blame a 7 in 10 failure rate on having over-extended the reach by hoping to attain the elusive “Pick Three”.

To add insult to injury, did you know that of the 30 percent of projects considered “successful,” more than 80 percent of their total project costs come – in the form of troubleshooting and maintenance – after the initial release? Which is to say, if you are successful, then your final project cost 5 times whatever you spent on it during development.

Shiver me timbers, mateys. This is madness!

Let me suggest a different approach, a win/win in which everyone plans for Success. Forget Fast, Good and Cheap as your relative target “success” metrics, and consider instead a project that is “On Purpose”.

This is the heart of the Persuasion Architecture field and the MAP process. By sitting down with the customer and defining together what the Purpose of the project will be, we can establish a series of absolute rather than relative metrics to measure success, and we can clarify the issues of schedule and financial breadth of the project.

Our project will be “good” to the extent we achieve our Purpose. After all, when’s the last time you heard “Well, Tim, the Skedoodle project did everything we wanted it to – guess we should mark it off as a Failure”? And we guarantee the Purpose is always the focus by Wireframing the project.

Our project will be “fast” because the Purpose outlines a specific schedule for delivering the purposeful goals – doing sit-ups to show off the new swimsuit this summer is much more effective when you begin in January rather than in July.

Our project will be “cheap” insofar as the project budget allows us to meet those purposeful goals – we don’t write a single line of code until we do all the hard, planning and thinking work up front, from defining Purpose to developing a Prototype – with the Prototype itself the final acceptance test.

By defining Purpose as our metric for success, we can identify exactly how we’ll go about achieving it, how long it will take and the resources we’ll require before we begin.

My new adage for this approach? “On Time, on Budget, and on Purpose – Pick Three.”

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