Friday, March 16, 2012

Fast, Cheap or Good - Pick 2

We techs know all too well the demands of our jobs, working with limited resources, that when it rains it pours and sometimes there isn't time to play catch up after a marathon of maintenance. In an ideal situation, we'd have the staff, the money and the time to properly plan, test, implement, clean up and document our projects while still maintaining our existing responsibilities.

In reality, we don't usually have these resources or personnel, and as such, I'll direct you to the following diagram:

an old concept, not mine, just re-imagined
Most projects can be handled by this theory.

  • Cheap and Good
    • This is the ideal situation. You do a good job, with the right resources, and you take all the time you need to make sure it's done right.
  • Fast
    • Sometimes time is a luxury you don't have. Often, this is preceded by some sort of failure [of equipment or personnel] and now business depends on you doing your job asap. Other times it's just a factor of poor planning or sloppy behaviour, (not necessarily by you) rushing, time crunches, under staffing, etc...
    • ...and Good (but not cheap)
      • This can involve running out to buy whatever you can find in stock, shipping new equipment priority, driving to another facility hours away or buying a backup part while sending the current one away for repair. (Maybe you already bought two parts, and one has been collecting dust for this exact situation) You'll get it fixed, but it's going to cost money.
      • What management needs to recognize in these situations is that no-matter the life-cycle you plan for your equipment, shit happens. That means not freaking out when something brand new breaks, and understanding why you budget to replace something that's still working.
    • ...and Cheap (but not good)
      • These are less ideal situations that you'll no doubt face at one point or another. It could be due to a limitation of budget, of the type of equipment that's failed, or that the failure occurred overnight when nothing's open. These tend to be ugly band-aids or temporary solutions, and hopefully you're planning to implement a "good" solution later.
      • Management generally won't understand the techno-wizardry we sometimes have to pull off to respond to a crisis... and this can be dangerous. All they'll know is the problem is fixed. "What do you mean you need $$$, didn't you already fix that?"
      • Once you pile up enough fast and cheap projects, two things will happen. First, people might be amazed at how much work you get done. Second, eventually, things will begin to pile up and people will start to question the quality of the work you do when you're constantly fixing that thing you fixed the other day.

Cheap is Relative...

Cheap doesn't mean that a project won't cost any money. You can take all the time in the world, but if you need to buy some highly specialized equipment, it's going to be expensive.

Remember, "cheap" is compared to how time and quality relates to a project. If an expensive part needs to be here tomorrow, you're paying more. If you don't have time to do a bunch of setup, you're contracting someone to do it for you. Maybe you can't take the time / skill to tie together a bunch of expensive smaller systems, so you order one uber-expensive piece of equipment that does everything.

Get the idea?

or, Pick [some of all] 3

This doesn't have to be chosen in absolutes either; you could have a mix of all 3. Instead, picture a dot somewhere in the middle of that diagram... you'll get all 3 aspects, just none of them will be fantastic. Instead of Fast, Cheap or Good, you get Reasonable, Inexpensive and Mediocre.

There is one thing that affects the level of "Time" and "Good" though... knowledge. The more you know, the more projects seem easier to you, which will allow you to do faster, better work. (Though I think sticking to easier projects will dull you over time, and increase the likelihood you'll make mistakes)

My suggestion: Favour good whenever you can, plan to replace projects with good ones when you can't and the quality of your work should speak for itself. If it doesn't, then either the people you answer to have an unrealistic expectation of the work or you need more training.

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