Getting Real: Pick two - scope, timeframe, or budget Jason 31 Mar 2005

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A lot of people have been asking me about how to make our Getting Real process work with client work. Here are some tips — some of which may be uncomfortable. This pick-two process also applies to your own internal development.

First, you have to hire the right clients. Don’t discount this step as too obvious (or impossible) — it’s a critical first step. If you are working with the wrong people 1. you won’t be happy, and 2. they won’t be happy. Misery loves company, but it doesn’t love great results.

Next, you need to tell your client to pick two. We’ve all heard “Pick two: good, fast, or cheap.” Dealing with client projects is no different. Your client needs to pick two: fixed scope, fixed timeframe, or fixed budget. Having all three is a myth. Pick three and you’ll end up with a lot of unsatisified people and subpar results.

Telling your client to pick two, and having them agree to pick two, isn’t easy. But it all comes down to working with the right clients (back to step one), and explaining why picking two is better than picking three. Here are some reasons why:

  • Prioritization. You have to figure out what’s really important. Is it timeframe, budget, or scope (and if scope, then you need to prioritize further)? This forces a constraint on you which will push you to make tough (and often creative) decisions.
  • Reality. Setting expectations is key here. If you promise all three, you won’t be able to deliver all three at a high level of quality. Sure, you can probably deliver something, but it almost certainly won’t be what you agreed to.
  • Flexibility. As I mentioned in Getting Real: Less Mass, the ability to change is key. Having everything fixed makes it tough to change. Injecting some flexibility (we can increase the budget, we can expand the time frame, we can change the scope) will introduce options based on your real experience building the product. Flexibility is your friend.

So, for example, if your client has $50,000 to spend, and needs the project done in 8 weeks, then the scope is flexible. If the scope isn’t flexible, and they need it done in 8 weeks, then the budget needs to be flexible. If the budget and scope aren’t flexible, the the timeframe needs to be flexible. Something has to give if you want to deliver a great project. Trying to make a fixed scope, fixed timeframe, and a fixed budget fit a project is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. You have to shave off the edges in order to make it work (which means something has to give).

So, yes, it’s hard, and you won’t always be successful, but part of Getting Real is getting real. Promising someone everything they want (fixed price, fixed scope, fixed timeframe) simply isn’t realistic if you want to deliver something great. Starting from a false promise will never get you to Real.

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