Thursday, September 23, 2010

Redefining Fast in the Good, Fast, Cheap Triangle

I'm a big believer in continuing the learning process throughout your life. I love all types of learning: traditional classes, short workshops, inspiring books and blogs! The list is endless.

My love of learning is one of the reasons that I work in higher education. As an assistant creative director, I produce work that inspires people to pursue college education, and at the same time, I'm exposed to all kinds of new ideas. In my pursuit of personal knowledge, I sometimes run into an idea whose time has not yet arrived—an idea too precious to lose. I capture these ideas in what I call my "Someday Box."

Taking a Peak Inside the Box
The ideas in my "Someday Box" are written on index cards and sorted by topics such as "better meetings," "customer service," and "technology." (Don't laugh, I like systems; they give me the illusion of control. I may even add color coding someday!)  Sometimes the idea is a complete thought, other times it might just be a question that I can't answer yet. 

Today, I felt like I should peer into the box. It has been a while. The ideas have had ample time to marinate, and perhaps one of them is ready to take its place in the world.

Redefining the Speed Problem
As I flipped through the cards, one in particular caught my eye. "Can we define the speed problem differently?" One thing my team has always struggled with producing a quality product in a time frame our partners find acceptable. There is an old saying in the printing industry, "You can have good, fast, or cheap; pick two."  Around here, the expectation is that we can have all three, and that leads to some friction.

Our typical approach to this problem is to tweak our process. How can we shave time without sacrificing quality? It is a solid approach, but it only takes us so far. That brings me to the question on this index card. "Can we define the speed problem differently?"

The idea comes from a book by Jack Foster, "How to Get Ideas." The example he gives is the problem of too many people waiting for the elevator. The typical way to come at this problem is to try to figure out how to get more people on the elevator so fewer people have to wait. Unfortunately the elevator has a limit to the number of people it can hold, so this won't solve the problem. So what if we define the problem differently?  We could ask ourselves, "Can we make the wait better?"  

Making the Wait Better
This thought really resonates with me. Of course we need to continue to work on efficiency, but I realize part of the problem is the "perception of slowness." From my team's perspective, we are working on multiple projects, playing what feels like a game of hot potato to make sure the things with firm deadlines get done on time, but from our partners' perspective, they are waiting for something that fell into a black hole. How can we make their wait better? That is the question that is marinating in my brain right now.


  1. Blast from the past... I met my husband at a print shop. Luv at 1st sight. Really! Anywho, when I am waiting for something I want acknowledgement. To be "touched" if you will. I hatey, hate, waiting, and am not a patient person when faced with the unknown. There I said it! =) So really, the wait is better when I have the illusion of being involved.
    Good Luck and Hugs

  2. I love that comment, MariS. It is all about the perception of the customer. If they feel involved they won't feel like they are waiting.

    And glad I could bring back a good memory!


Ooh,a comment! How delightful.


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