I love explaining this to managers

As I manage my department, and I am asked for the status, the cost justifications, and the time frame of various projects, there is one truism that I find myself having to explain to folks.

When you have something broken, or a project you want completed, remember these words…

“Fast, Cheap, or Right. Pick two.”

If you want it done right, and done now, it ain’t gonna be cheap.

If you want it done right, and done cheap, it ain’t gonna be done now.

If you want it done fast and cheap, IT AIN’T GONNA BE RIGHT.



27 thoughts on “I love explaining this to managers

  1. I haven’t seen that one before, but I sure will do my best to remember it.

    That quote is so true and I’ve loved it for a long time.


  2. There was a poster at an old job of mine that said “If you can’t find the time to do it right the first time, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” I always liked that. In my current job, I spent most of my time doing things over from the last person.

    This subject reminds me of the old physics joke about management:
    If time is money, and knowledge is power, and we know from physics that power = work over time.
    Then substituting we arrive at: knowledge = work / money.
    Solving the last equation for money you get money = work / knowledge
    So the amount of money you have is inversely proportional to your knowledge, regardless of the amount of work done.


  3. LoL I used to have a small poster that had that printed on it.

    It was directly above the sign that read “Lack of planning on your part does not make an emergency on mine.”


  4. I figure it’s the whole problem of people being promoted until they are ineffective, then never demoted just kept around being ineffective. I don’t know why but after decades I still have met very few managers who get this, and the higher up in organizations you go the worse they are. I don’t understand how people making 200K a year can be so stupid, how did they get those jobs? And you don’t have to be in IT, that truism is true for any product or project. It just baffles me how dumb people are. I mean ok I am dumb too in certain areas of life but I don’t get promoted and rewarded for it.

    I’d say that’s the problem with large beurocracies (large businesses, or govt. or NGOs seem to all be full of this type of management), since smaller businesses can’t act like that or they die much quicker. But … I’m sure someone would pipe in with examples from small businesses as well.

    I need to go get a drink now


  5. HOLY CRAP that’s funny. As an engineer with some customer service aspects to my job,…..I tell people that all the time, only I didn’t have it so perfectly succinctly put together.

    When clients are bugging repeatedly about minor minor minor details or additions to large contracts, I also like to tell them, “Tell me what you want so I can tell you why you don’t need it.”


  6. I had the same chart up on my wall last year at a previous job.

    Time, Cost, Quality: Pick any two.

    I got a new manager and her first reaction was “Why not all three?”

    Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised when the layoffs came and things fell apart.


  7. It’s amazing how when you ask people (bosses, managers, whomevers) such a direct question, you don’t get a direct answer….

    /sighing with you


  8. The strange part of the whole system is that in a meritocracy, the managers would already know this, and the guys who *do* the work wouldn’t have to keep explaining it. Middle management is a blight on the productive sector of a business or economy. Dilbert is funny because it’s true… and if we can’t laugh, we’d cry.


  9. We had a three legged stool in the maintenance shop aboard my ship. The three legs had “done right”, “done right now”, and “done under budget” on them.

    The top of the chair said “pick two” =)


  10. Exchange “right” for “safe” and you’ve got the drug development issues. It’s a fun industry to work in, especially the public perception bit!


  11. When I worked in audio postproduction in Burbank for a while, we had a very similar thing…

    “Good – Fast – Cheap; Choose any Two”

    Works wonders with some people!


  12. I stumbled on to your blog (specifically the jovial wot-wot post regarding Ulduar itemization) today and just wanted to say thanks for some very entertaining content. In the spirit of this post, I can assure you that MY boss sure as hell isn’t going to see much getting accomplished today, not while I’ve got a year or more of old Guild Drama posts of yours to read through! Ahh guild drama…I hate it when it happens to me, and I love it so very much when it happens to somebody else…


  13. words of wisdom. My Department Head does not understand this concept and continually waits till the last minute to push work through. Then he wonders why everything is so shoddy and half-assed.


  14. I had the same discussion at our last project status meeting as two more major projects were dropped in our lap. I spent 30 minutes trying to convince the rest of the meeting that no they could not have all three. I am not sure they all got it. In the end I still ended up with the two new projects and the same unreasonable deadlines . . .


  15. haha, being an engineer I know this pain. Most times ppl want fast and cheap despite the fact they never send me all the information. Or they want it rite and fast and damn if we don’t charge them an arm and a leg lol.


  16. I have a picture on my office wall that is called “The magic triangle of construction” with those three things on each side. In order to use it you pick a corner.

    Same basic deal, only more graphical for those manager types that struggle with verbal reasoning.


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