Fast, Cheap and Good

Erik Bethke, in his 2003 book entitled Game Development and Production, focused on what he called the Project Triangle, and the three legs of the triangle are being on budget, being on time, and producing a high quality project. As Bethke notes “It is a business law of software development projects (and just about any other type of project) that you can achieve two out of three of these goals on any project, but you cannot achieve all three (p. 65).”

This concept is not really all that new or limited to software development, and as it has been applied and misapplied in many areas, the concept has been shortened to the following elements: FAST CHEAP GOOD.

The rule stays the same: You can get FAST and CHEAP, but it probably won’t be very GOOD; you can get FAST and GOOD, but it will cost you; and you can get CHEAP and GOOD, but it will take some time.

While this principle may not have the same explanatory power of Newton’s three laws of motion, keeping this model in mind whenever we think about developing and implementing a new product, process, class, technology, etc. is a pretty good idea.

I think about this model a lot as we do work on curriculum development, new program development, and as we continue our work on student success issues. Higher education is often accused (sometimes fairly, but not always) as being rather deliberate in its decision making and implementation process. Metaphors such as glaciers (less and less appropriate these days) and turning around ocean liners abound in discussing higher education decision making.

I find that the FAST CHEAP GOOD model provides a better frame for thinking of what we have to do in higher education. We know that the world in which we operate is changing fairly rapidly: technology, demographics, accountability, funding, and the purpose of higher education are just a few of the elements that are disrupting the educational environment. We are being asked in higher education to be more rapid in our responses, and to make changes to long-standing ways of operating and ways of teaching and learning—and we do need to be aware that change does have to take place.

But as we make our plans and implement these plans, it is, I would argue, always a good idea to remember FAST CHEAP GOOD.

Higher education (at least public higher education) is not very flush with finding, so of the three elements, CHEAP is probably going to be part of the discussion in most cases (not always—there is still some ability to provide a good amount of resources in support of new ideas). Since CHEAP is almost a constant, and since we also always do want GOOD, we may find that it may take a little more time to get the quality we want at the price we are able to provide. This is not an excuse about not acting or implementing, or a reason not to move forward with new projects and new ideas—but it is a reminder of the importance of using our time effectively to reach the quality we need–and of course, since there is always another metaphor or saying that can be used to argue an opposing view, also keep in mind the saying that “perfect should never be the enemy of the good.”

So, as I like to remind people that I did get a chance to have a good classical education, at one time, we do need to work for balance between the elements of the Project Triangle (as well as between conflicting and competing sayings). We close with Aristotle and the Golden Mean: Look for the desirable between the two extremes.


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