The Good, Fast, Cheap Complex


So you want a new system?  – you can have anything you want:  Good, Fast, or Cheap – pick any two.     

It is that old “trusty” cynical adage in systems development that as a buyer of business systems you can have your choice of 2 of a possible 3 outcomes: Good, Fast, or Cheap. You can buy a great system, and go real fast – but it’s going to cost a ton. You can go fast, and spend little – but its not going to work right – you’ll hate it! Get a great system developed only using your existing pool of resources (cheap) – and just watch your timelines slip to the right!

Its 2015, and my flying car has not yet arrived – but in business surely this motto doesn’t apply any more right? After all, software is getting better all the time, computers are more powerful, and my cell phone is amazing – there’s an app for everything! So surely when I want a new system for my business, given all the great solutions on the market, these “truisms” no longer apply!    

They still do. While cynical, the adage highlights the tension in any project of complexity – how do we balance the factors of cost, time, and quality? The choices can be daunting. At Solve we’ve watched clients:

  • just resort to no decision or status quo because its too hard to figure out a way forward – We’ll just keep on doing what we always do because its too hard and risky to find a new path.
  • buy safe choices that don’t really fit their business because they’ve heard other people pick those choices and they want others to make the decisions. – no one ever got fired for selecting SAP! – oh and we won’t have to change our sensitive business processes to implement that right?
  • Hire titled experts to do the thinking for them – all those letters after their names means they really know what is good for my business!
  • Put in a system that is flashy and is supposed to work right out of the box  – wow! – you mean drag and drop processes can’t address my complex business scenario – no kidding, who knew? 

The consulting/software industry hasn’t done ourselves any favors here

Many of our clients have battle scars from those !#$!#$ consultants/software people who they had to work with one time. Boy, they were great at first, but then they stopped helping. Now they are a parasite – and we just can’t seem to get rid of them! They quit listening to us – they’re only recommending what’s good for them! I feel taken advantage of!   

That’s a shame. As consultants and consultative sellers, we have to give our clients better options, help them weigh priorities, and share the rationale for recommendations we make. We have to listen and partner as helpers. At Solve we really try to do this. Our roots are as a custom solutions company – so we believe that solutions should uniquely fit our clients, and we don’t believe there are too many “one size fits all” answers out there. We also believe that “good consultants leave” – and we really should leave when we’re supposed to, when we’ve finished delivering our value – ideally when the project is finished. We should get called back because our clients find value in our support – and we’ve demonstrated that we are trust-worthy partners.

I submit a few less cynical answers to the priorities as they relate to implementing IT systems:  Fast, Good, or Cheap. 

  • Fast:  You can go fast if you resource the project properly. You won’t do that if you’re not sure of the business case for the solution. Take the time to prove out the business case and justify significant cost and effort. This is a step you omit at your peril! “We’ve always known we needed to do this” is not a business case!
  • Good: You can get a great solution if the people on your team, whether they’re from other companies or not, take time to really get to know the business process they seek to address. We don’t have much tolerance at Solve for folks on our team who just want to throw solutions over the wall to business users. The solutions from client A are seldom right for client B. You’ve got to get curious about the business process in order to support and help it – to deliver compelling, lasting value. Don’t make assumptions that “we know what they need”.  
  • Cheap: Handle costly projects by segmenting the development of new capability over multiple project phases – which come at more modest cost, and deliver incremental value. Look for low hanging fruit – early wins that help the organization feel good about continued investment. At Solve, we’ve found standardized building block solution components that help us deliver at lower costs – these are out there for you – they help control costs and make results more predictable. Spend dollars on developing the truly unique parts of your system and cheaply implement the commodity aspects of it.   

So can you have all three? It will definitely be a balance – but there is a right answer to get the solution you need for your business.  

David Fields

Principal of Solve. Directs our Northwest Arkansas team. Works closely with clients to identify, scope, and manage engagements that improve business results through Business Intelligence and Custom Application Development.