DOVC – #034 – How to Apply the Speed vs Cost vs Quality Triangle to Make Smarter Business Choices

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How to Apply the Speed vs Cost vs Quality Triangle to Make Smarter Business Choices

In business, we’re often faced with trade-off decisions between speed, cost, and quality. 

The common reflex is to demand all three – fast, cheap, and flawless results. 

But seasoned leaders know you can only optimize for two factors.

In this article, I’ll explain the classic speed, cost, quality triangle concept that helps frame business decisions. 

Then I’ll share real examples of using this model to set client expectations and make smarter strategic calls.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

  • What the speed, cost, quality triangle is and how to visualize it
  • Why you can only optimize for two of the three factors
  • How balancing trade-offs transforms decision-making
  • Examples of the triangle applied to business scenarios
  • Using the triangle to set client expectations on projects
  • How I apply this model to guide my own business choices
  • Why the triangle brings clarity to complex decisions

Three Forces Pulling Your Business in Different Directions

Imagine three forces pulling you in separate ways – the desire for speed, reducing costs, and flawless quality. 

Most business scenarios involve balancing trade-offs between these competing interests.

The speed, cost, quality triangle visualizes these trade-offs to guide decision-making. 

It looks like three overlapping circles, illustrating you can only optimize two areas simultaneously.

Balancing all three is impossible. 

But visualizing the relationships between them brings clarity to choose which two factors to prioritize based on circumstances.

 

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Real Examples of How This Triangle Plays Out

Let’s walk through some examples that demonstrate the triangle in action:

Fast and cheap won’t be quality – Rush custom web development on a barebones budget will suffer on quality.

Fast and quality won’t be cheap – Expediting an urgent logo refresh from a top-tier designer will be expensive.

Cheap and quality won’t be fast – Getting an inexpensive yet flawless mobile app built by expert coders will take substantial time.

The triangle forces conscious trade-offs rather than blindly chasing every variable. 

This leads to smarter decisions.

Using the Triangle To Set Expectations

The triangle is also useful for setting expectations with clients. 

Presenting the relationships helps frame projects realistically.

For example, conveying that achieving an aggressive deadline will require more budget to add resources. 

Or that significant cost savings will extend the timeline.

This encourages clients to clarify priority areas for optimization before work begins.

 

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How I Use The Triangle to Guide My Own Decisions

I now instinctively apply the triangle when making major business decisions. 

It provides a quick visual prompt to assess options.

For instance, when upgrading my website I knew achieving my ambitious speed goal required a higher budget to hire the best web development talent.

The triangle allowed me to consciously make that budget versus timeline trade-off with eyes wide open rather than blindly chasing every variable.

Lead with the Triangle When Choices Get Confusing

I hope this provides a useful way to visualize decisions involving competing interests – a very common scenario.

The speed, cost, quality triangle cuts through the confusion by framing trade-offs and defining priorities. 

And it works for virtually any strategic or operational choice.

Next time you face a complex decision with many moving parts, sketch out this triangle as a forcing function. 

It quickly brings clarity to balance the key factors involved based on importance.

Let me know if you have any other questions on applying this model!

Key Takeaways: Speed vs cost vs quality triangle

  • The triangle illustrates trade-offs between speed, cost, and quality
  • It's impossible to optimize all three simultaneously
  • Useful for visualizing decisions involving competing interests
  • Helps set expectations by showing relationships between factors
  • Provides a forcing function to clarify priorities
  • I instinctively apply this model to guide major business decisions
  • Lead with the triangle when choices get confusing

Let's connect to discuss applying the triangle to a business decision you're grappling with!

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