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You can only choose two. So which will it be? Speed, cost, or quality?

We want to have it all. But the truth is, in business (and in life), something always has to give. So how do we choose wisely?

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“You can only choose two. Will it be cost, speed, or quality?” is a concept anyone in product development knows and knows well. If this question is new to you, let me give you a brief explanation.

When you’re building a product, you have the following choices:

  1. Get it built quickly with good quality. This option will cost you a lot.
  2. Get it built well and cheaply. This option will take a lot of time.
  3. Get it built quickly and cheaply. With this option, the quality won’t be good.

One criterion must always give. There is no such thing as cheap, fast, and high quality. Take a look at any home improvement project, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Now I want you to overlay this concept onto hiring. Like it or not, one out of the three must give when we’re talking about team members, too. So how can a hiring manager choose wisely?

Here’s what I’ve shared with some talented people who’ve run into this problem. We’ll start with cost.

WHEN YOU HIRE SOMEONE TO DO A JOB, YOU PAY THEM. WHETHER THAT’S CHEAP OR NOT DEPENDS ON HOW MUCH.

A word of caution before I move onto talking about quality and speed: humans are not machines. If you’re thinking, “Wait! Isn’t fast work, good work? Why aren’t quality and speed a single choice?” then you’re probably placing productivity outputs over your team’s human value. Spoiler alert: if this is true, the future is going to be very grim for you.

Okay. Let’s move onto my thoughts on quality. 

Is quality:

  • Delivering complete and beautifully presented solutions to problems?
  • Understanding the nuance of a customer’s need?
  • Looking at a problem or situation and figuring out how to make it better?
  • The ability to build and lead a team of people?
  • Unparalleled depth of expertise in a particular subject matter?

(One might also say that quality equates to years of experience. And while it’s often a guide, I don’t think we can assume that to be true.)

WHEN WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HUMANS, THE QUALITY CRITERION TRANSLATES TO VALUE. WHAT VALUE DOES THE PERSON IN THE ROLE NEED TO ADD SO YOU CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEMS YOU’RE TRYING TO SOLVE?

Now we’ll explore speed. What is speed when it comes to people?

Do you recognize a pattern or understand a concept quickly? Or do you look at situations with such a fresh set of eyes or a unique perspective that you’re able to see them in a whole new light? When coupled with the ability to act on those ideas, each of these thinking types can be fast.

HOW A PERSON THINKS AND WHAT THEY DO WITH THAT THINKING HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THEIR SPEED. SO WHAT TYPE OF THINKING IS BEST FOR THE ROLE YOU’RE TRYING TO FILL?

So there you have it. Do you want cheap, value or thinking for the role? Humans aren’t products, but the “only two” concept still holds true. And if you’re a hiring manager, I think you need to think about this.

Just like it does for a home improvement project, getting clear on what gives and what doesn’t will generate the most satisfying end results.

So which is most important to you? Choose two.

PS. Then do the people applying for the job a favor and let them know which two are essential. We’d all be grateful.

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