Cheap, Fast, or Good… Pick two!

Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who was a building contractor and I was complaining about the contractor I had currently working on my house. My friend said people get disappointed with contractors because they don’t understand the basic fact that the only variables are time, money, and quality. It turns out the same thing applies to all of the software engineering projects I have managed over the years and pretty much everything in life.

Time, money, and quality equate to cheap, fast or good.

But the key is you can usually only have two of these, not all three.

Let’s Think About This

When I’m having work done on my house it can be cheap and fast, or cheap and good, or fast and good. If you want the work done cheap and fast, you know the quality won’t be that good. If you choose cheap and good, you need to accept it won’t get done fast. Finally, if you want fast and good, it’s gonna cost you.

More so, I believed people had default tendencies, i.e. they would tend to pick a given combination most of the time. For example, I am Fast and Good. I am willing to pay more to get something done fast. Fast and good turns out to be my general approach to life. Mike, on the other hand, is Cheap and Good. He is willing to wait for something in order to save money. Sometimes, he waits for a really long time.

To test this theory, Mike and I asked lots of people to describe their own personal preferences, in general, not just for contractors, but for everything they want in their lives. Would they describe themselves as:

  • Fast and Good
  • Cheap and Good
  • Cheap and Fast

It turns out this question is a great conversation starter. Everyone we’ve asked has always been able to say which two they would pick most of the time. Most chose Fast and Good. Oddly, a few chose Cheap and Fast. Mike and I both have difficulty comprehending a life where Good is not a priority.

Which are you?

Think about it for yourself and try it out on your friends and colleagues. Ask them “Cheap, Fast or Good – pick two!” The answers might provide you with insights which can help you understand your own motivations and the motivations of the people around you.

Test your friends; it’s a great conversation starter!

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  1. Nothing fast around here – I would say we are both cheap and good. I’m going to use your idea of picking two tomorrow at a party! Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Diana,

    Sending good wishes for an Outstanding trip of a lifetime! I just found a tiny window to read your Living chapter writings- I’ve enjoyed them! Would love to see you again when you return. All the best!

  3. I’ve used this framing before for food. Good and cheap is home cooking, cheap and fast is McDonald`s, etc. Started life out as cheap and fast, but have transitioned to more good and fast. Wishing you both continued fun on your trip!!

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