Better, Faster, Cheaper…Pick 2

I can’t remember how many times I’ve lost a bid because a new client – one that I have not worked with before – chose the cheaper bid. I also can’t count how many times those same clients came back to me, later, to fix the mess the cheaper option produced. When a client settles on the cheaper option, it usually means that they lack the requisite knowledge to accurately compare proposals on their technical merit.

Part of the problem is the proposal process. It is less risky for an executive to defend a “lower-price” proposal to their boss than it is for them to champion a “higher-cost/higher-effort” proposal – especially when it is their first major UX-centered project.

Clients who have not experienced the value of a UX-centered design approach firsthand often benefit from the educational value of a failed project, costly as that education may be. My goal is to help clients understand from the outset that the value of “better” and “better/faster” is preferable to any form of a “cheaper” option.

Case in Point

One client, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, invited me to review a design and give my analysis and recommendations. After a thorough review of their site, I met with about a dozen of their top marketing and development folks to politely tell them what would happen if they launched the design, as is. They then asked for a proposal to fix it. Having never engaged a UX designer before, they lacked the aforementioned requisite knowledge and decided to save a few bucks and launch the design, without my help.

About six months later, I was invited back. This time, there were about 20 people in the conference room, including all but one of the original dozen. Apparently, all of the things that I said would go wrong, did go wrong, costing them several million dollars in lost revenue PER MONTH. They asked me how much it would take to fix it. I quoted them two times my original proposal. Someone asked me why it was double. I told them that now I have to fix their mess. (The new effort had to be better and faster, which meant I had to bring in another colleague to assist.) A fellow, who until now sat silently at the end of the table, got up and told the rest of the team, “Sign the contract and don’t make that mistake, again.” He then left the room. The meeting was over.

no-greed

Don’t Be Greedy

I have never seen anyone achieve all three objectives (better, faster, AND cheaper) in a single project. So, while in theory, it’s possible to achieve all three, in practice, it’s not probable. That’s the difference between theory and practice: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re not.

In practice, a good project can achieve, at best, two of the objectives, but never all three. In the absence of any other information, it’s not uncommon for managers to base their decision on the cheapest bids. Is that a successful approach? Let’s investigate:

Better-Faster:

With this approach, the site will perform very well and will launch sooner, thereby generating more revenue, sooner, that offsets the higher cost of achieving these objectives.

Better-Cheaper

While this results in a high-performing site, it takes longer to get to a launch point, thus missing out on months of revenue, counteracting the savings of hiring a cheaper option.

Faster-Cheaper

This option provides a site that launches quickly, at a reasonable cost, but fails to generate the expected revenue, again, counteracting the savings of hiring the cheaper option.

When meeting with a potential client, I try to determine if they are focused on better or faster. If I suspect that their main objective is cheaper, or worse yet, they want all three, I politely decline to submit a proposal until they can get it right. It’s not that my rates exceed the average, but, if cheaper is one of their main objectives, it’s a recipe for failure and I prefer to let someone else fail.

Lean UX and MVP

Lean UX’s Minimum Viable Product helps control costs while still delivering on a better-faster model. Fast is actually more of a function of balancing better with cheaper. Lean UX reduces the number of features to a more cost-effective subset, allowing for the right amount of time to focus on the most critical features.

Summary

Be wary of the project that focuses on cheaper at the expense of better or faster. The more successful project will focus on better or faster and find ways to mitigate costs by making trade-offs in either of those two objectives. Lean UX practices focus on doing just that, so read up on Lean UX.

In the long run, cheaper never works out in your favor. Remember, if you don’t have the money to do it right the first time, what makes you think you’ll have enough money to do it right a second time?

By the way, the lone missing member from my client’s original dozen was the guy who made the fateful decision to save a few dollars and launch the original site design. He was subsequently invited to seek other opportunities. How many managers need to lose their jobs before they learn that cheaper is not really an option? Don’t be that guy.