Quality ≥ Speed > Cost A Formula for Creative Projects

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Colin Harman

The holy trinity of project management is scope, schedule and budget (or quality/speed/cost depending). This is what the Project Management Institute calls the “triple constraint”. Companies can’t escape these constraints, but they can adjust the mixture to achieve their projects. Creative projects are constrained differently than other projects like technology or construction and so their priorities are a different balance.

For creative companies I propose the following priorities:
Scope ≥ Schedule > Budget

Why the “greater than or equal to” sign between scope and schedule? Because in the creative sector, quality always equals or is more important than speed for two reasons. First, quality is the reason the company started; and second it's also what drives every project. Clients are looking to the creative company to solve a quality problem. Unreasonable attempts to save costs by reducing quality is not a good brand for creative companies. Quality is the brand for creative companies, and therefore the most critical aspect of what they do. To unreasonably sacrifice quality for speed or cost risks the entire value proposition.

Quality is also why creative projects are started in the first place. Every creative project is likely a quest for quality. Projects such as prototyping, new product roll-out, a company rebrand, or an ad campaign are all defined by a new level of quality. The best creative companies can promise speed along with quality, but for fledgeling enterprises “design within reach” can shift into “fast but okay”.

Regarding cost, creative companies rarely base their appeal on price. Price wars rarely work for commodities but it never works in the creative sector, where the audience is shopping for a particular or unique experience. Forget cost as the prime directive but remember that each project is a three legged stool. If you shave off too much quality, speed or budget, there is an adjustment to be made. Here are some scenarios to consider for creative projects.

The “Send It Back to the Kitchen” Scenario


In this scenario, the client isn’t satisfied and sends it back to your team for better quality, now what? Under few circumstances should a creative project be pushed back in schedule. This seduction of more time will hurt the relationship with other clients - as well as your current dissatisfied client - when you can’t deliver on the original deadline. It will conflict with your other projects in numerous ways, it will fluster vendors, jostle PR deadlines, confuse management and support staff and set a precedent of pushing things back when quality is poor. In short, the company looks amateur and it’s other projects suffer.

It’s far better to negotiate how much it will cost to deliver the better quality on the same timetable. Either invoice the improvement in quality, absorb the cost (gulp!) or strike a compromise. The client will respect a creative firm that insists on staying on schedule.

The “I Need It Yesterday” Scenario


In this scenario, the client wants you to give them the same quality but faster, For example, a firm just got word that their designs need to go to production this spring instead of summer. In this example, reducing the design quality is very tempting. But remember that your company’s identity is based on quality. Creative companies sometimes need to be fast or affordable, but they can never be shoddy. Consider hiring on additional staff or consultants to meet the deadline and explain that cost to your client. They may be insistent on reducing quality instead of paying more. Again, remember that a creative company’s identity is not based on its price point but on quality. Explain that what they are really asking for is “brilliance in a crunch” and that is very expensive service to provide.


The “I’ve Never Done That Before” Scenario


In this scenario, the company has a project they’ve never attempted before. Be aware that new endeavors are going to need more time to get the untested form up to the quality of your tested forms. This absolutely costs the company more and takes more time. A company can’t enter a new form of project and be rookie of the year - unless additional resources can be pledged or you hire some veterans. The company should pair outside veterans with current staff to research the best, base and worst case scenarios. Then the company can generate a quote for a project, and even give a contract with performance based compensation so that the speed and cost can be flexible. With performance based compensation, the company can afford the costs of speeding up the project.