How to Survive the Business Triangle of Fast, Good & Cheap

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txpdb49d990KT5000_Small_125569When was the last time a customer told you that money is no object as long as you produce a good-enough product or service whenever it is convenient?  OK, you have a right to laugh because these situations only happen in the dream world.  In the real world, customers make unreasonable demands every day.  It is your job to find realistic ways to make your customers’ dreams come true.

A Quick Lesson on Project Management

Any certified project manager (or even someone who plays one on TV) can tell you about the triple constraint that affects every project without exception.  Also known as the “business triangle”, this rule says that projects involve three basic components: time, quality and cost.  You can skimp on any two of these components, but not all three.  This triangle is indisputable, but unlike the Bermuda Triangle, you can in fact get around it.

So, what do you do when a prospective customer wants to pay standard costs for you to create custom order tracking software for their business in two weeks?  Sure, you can turn down the job, recognizing that you’ll have to throw profits out the window to bring a high-quality project in on time.  But, I often advise companies to figure out ways to deliver everything that the customer needs on time and within budget — and sell it to the customer.

Different Levels of Quality

Obviously, every product or service must work properly and deliver the results that your customer needs.  But in the project management world, a major part of quality is scope, so now is the time to figure out what that customer truly needs to track orders easily and accurately.  This can involve eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles or even finding reasonable ways to develop most features that your customers want, even if they don’t absolutely need them.

For example, you have to customize the data entry screens to suit the customer’s requirements.  But, rather than developing the mountains of reports that they requested, plug in a third party report generator.  You’ll probably want to create the most important reports for them, but they might be thrilled when you sell them on the idea that they can easily create any report that they want on a whim.

At a minimum, if your client is hyper focused on speed and/or cost, then you need to sell them on the idea that version 1.0 with less features is appropriate for now and, if applicable, that they can upgrade in the future.

The Need for Speed

If your clients are like Veruca Salt from the Willy Wonka movies, once they decide that they want something, they want it now.  Your customers may understand that developing that order tracking system to spec takes time.  Unfortunately, they still want it faster than you can produce a custom software system from scratch.

It’s an entrepreneurs job to channel McGyver when necessary, so think about ways to get around “recreating the wheel” from scratch.  You have many opportunities to build efficiencies into your process and your options increase with every project.  Maybe you can save time by starting with an earlier program that tracked widgets for another customer.  Or, if you need to create custom widgets, can you customize an existing mold that you have created earlier?  By looking at your company’s big picture, you can shave time off of many projects.

Of course, you can also throw more workers at the project to get more done in less time, but this solution adds more expenses to your bottom line.

Think Not Cheap, but Value-Oriented….

By now, you’re probably recognizing that you can often tweak one element of the business triangle to get more mileage out of the others.  Project costs are no exception. 

If you cannot escape the need to bring in more programmers for that order tracking system, you might consider bringing in a talented intern from the local technical college.  Interns can handle the more repetitious tasks under the direction of your own trusted staff while adding valuable experience to their resumes.  Or, rather than bringing in more quality assurance testers, your customer may welcome the opportunity to get a sneak peek at an early version of their system while doing their own testing.  In addition to notifying you of any inaccuracies, they may even be delighted to get a jump start on data entry.

Naturally, you want to look at the cost of materials as well.  Any place that you can save is a win. While it’s nice to provide user documentation on 22-pound bright white paper, less bright 20-pound stock serves the purpose just as well.  In fact, you can avoid paper costs entirely with online documentation, just like the major players in the software industry.

There’s always a way around at least one constraint. View each customer demand as a fun puzzle that you need to solve.  Take a step back and let your natural dedication and creativity put the puzzle together, so that it fits customer needs while advancing your business.

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