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Slices Of Apple, Part 3 July 30, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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This is the third in a series of posts dissecting Apple’s recent misfortunes during the rollout of the iPhone 3G and related technologies.  You’ll find the first post here.

Time, Quality, or Money: Choose Two

I am always surprised when I meet IT folks who don’t know this old canard.  Simply put, in any project something will be sacrificed.  If you want a high-quality result on time, you’ll spend a lot of money to get it.  Want to hit your budget and deliver high quality?  You’ll take longer with fewer people to get things finished. And if you want to hit your date and hit your budget, you’ll never meet your quality goal.

Apparently, this is the choice that Apple made for MobileMe, the new shared email service launched along with the iPhone 3G earlier this month.  After making the bad decision to release four big things all at once, Apple seems to have stuck with that decision without regard to the quality of the MobileMe product.  The fallout has been terrible and Apple has lost face with a huge swath of its customer base.  The problems still aren’t fixed, and users are still (rightfully) upset, as witnessed by the FailMe parody web site.

The key to successful project management is to realize that this rule is inviolate.  When a project goes awry (and they all do, to some extent), you will be choosing two of these three goals.  How to decide?

If possible, choose Time. Money may be limited, and quality is crucial, so delaying a project and slipping a date is your least distasteful choice.  If you are managing a project whose date cannot slip (end of year reporting or tax filing, for example), recognize that constraint right away and budget lots of money to ensure that you will wind up with good quality.  A good product delivered late is still a good product; a bad product delivered on time will never be forgotten.  Apple will be hearing about MobileMe for a long time; slipping it would have been no big deal.

If you can’t choose Time, choose Money. Money buys labor in the form of developers, testers, tools, and anything else you might need to hit that date.  The goal is to ensure that you avoid having to choose quality.  Be careful, though: money only goes so far.  At some point, you cannot buy your way to hit a date.  (There is a closely correlated rule for this: Nine Women Cannot Have A Baby In One Month).

Never choose Quality. If you really have to choose Quality, argue strenuously to cancel, defer, or redefine the project.  Like eating bad food, memories of bad quality linger for a long, long time.  Slipped dates are soon forgotten as people move on to other things, and even blown budgets fade after time.  Bad quality never diminishes and can come back to haunt you over and over again.

In short, make rational decisions on Money and Time, but never give in on Quality.  If you cave in on Quality, you’ll soon find yourself living through Musciano’s Extension to this rule:

Time, Quality, Money, or Your Job: Choose Three

In these cases, you usually aren’t the one making the final choice.

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