GOOD, CHEAP & FAST in software development.

“We offer 3 kinds of services: GOOD-CHEAP and FAST, but you can pick only two.” A well-known statement in Project Management. Meaning that you cannot have all three of them during your development and you will have to balance and make your choices.

GOOD & CHEAP won’t be FAST, FAST & GOOD won’t be CHEAP and CHEAP & FAST won’t be GOOD. True?

GOOD is clearly referring to quality, FAST is referring to speed and CHEAP is referring, of course, to money. If you want to develop something of high quality it will cost you either a lot of money and/or will need time to develop.

Let’s put the GOOD-FAST-CHEAP triangle in perspective of software development and see whether this triangle is true for software development. I would say, it is not. I would reformulate. The only way to be FAST and to be CHEAP is to be GOOD.

Being FAST.

Let’s have a closer look at being fast. Being fast is mainly determined by the level of complexity. The more complex the problem to be solved the longer it takes. Of course, this needs no further explanation. Complexity comes from two directions. The first one is external, meaning by requirements. Requirements will determine the complexity of the product and therefore are of high influence on costs and duration of the needed development. The second direction of complexity comes from, is internally. The level of the internal quality of software (What is Software Quality?) determines the complexity to deal with. Internal quality of software is the quality of the architecture/design and the quality of the code. Whenever you have a complex design, possibly caused by increasing technical debt (Help…, my software rots!), it is more complex to add features and adapt the software. If your code is not well readable it will take more time to understand to be able to adapt. As you can see, low quality will lead to higher complexity and thus being slower.

However, whenever you would start a green-field software development, from scratch, no existing software to be re-used, there would be no internal complexity yet. In such a case it is possible to be fast and cheap without being good (low quality). But, internal complexity will increase and speed will decrease accordingly. So even being fast without being good will only last for a short period as visualized in the picture below.

Since software is evolving and imperfections are accumulated during development your technical debt will grow and with that the internal complexity will grow resulting in becoming slow.

Being CHEAP.

Ok, now you might be convinced that you will need GOOD to be FAST. So according to the GOOD-FAST-CHEAP triangle you will not be CHEAP.

Hmmm……, is that the case? Of course software development is not cheap, but due to one of the properties of software development there is a direct relation between duration and costs in software development. Costs are determined mainly by labor in software development. Engineers developing and maintaining software are the main cost item of a software development project. This implies that there is a direct relation between duration and costs. Whenever it takes long to develop, it will cost you more. From this we can simply conclude that being FAST in software development equals being CHEAP for which, as explained above, low complexity and thus GOOD is needed.

Therefore, in software development the only way to be FAST and to be CHEAP is to be GOOD.

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