Pick Two…

I had to go to Germany this week. We had a sponsored Symposium and I was an invited guest. I came back from the US last weekend and I took possession of my apartment at the start of last week…but I was determined to participate in the Symposium.

I had been asked to say a few words of welcome at the start of the evening reception at the end of day one. This struck me as a great opportunity. The symposium attendees were a mixture of our own employees and representatives from companies we work with. Most had never met me. Many didn’t know who I was.

Quality over quantity – was the question I posed. Everyone always seems to nod in agreement whenever this concept is mentioned. But what does it mean to us individually? Our companies? Our industry? I did expand a little before I sat down, with my corollary being that it’s very easy to measure ‘quantity’ but what do we mean by ‘quality’ let alone how do we assess it?

Immediately, of course, everyone at the Symposium knew who I was, and many were quite keen to meet me. Most had their own (strongly held) definition of quality that they wanted to share. Needless to say, there was no consistency. Several believed quality was associated with greater investment in people or technology. Some were more abstract – quality is defined by the customer. Or more precise – quality is fitness for purpose. And others simply explained that every day they do everything they can to deliver their best work possible – and that was their route to quality.

Many simply wanted to say hello, ask me about my move, my observations and my experiences to date. It took me an hour before I managed to eat anything – all of which was why I was so determined to participate in the Symposium.

Towards the end of the evening I was sat with a group of colleagues from across the industry and one offered their opinion that everything really came down to delivering ‘faster, better, cheaper’. This seemed to resonate with many at the table. But then a lone voice from behind me called out…‘pick two!’

I turned around quickly and must have looked slightly bemused since I was immediately presented with a repeat…‘faster, better, cheaper – pick two’.

This intrigued me. I had to find out more. I swapped tables to chat with the voice. I have often heard (and used) ‘faster, better, cheaper’ in a variety of situations but hadn’t come across the ‘pick two’ addendum before. The offered explanation from my new friend – a colleague from a rapidly developing mid-sized Pharma company – was simple; that we can only ever optimise two of these parameters to the inevitable disadvantage of the third. And so, although it is always possible to deliver work ahead of schedule, with improved quality, and under budget…it’s just never possible to have all three.

As I tried to sleep that night, I alternatively wrestled with jet lag and with this concept – is it best to be faster? Should we always aim to be better? Is being cheaper what’s wanted most these days? Or, in truth, is the real opportunity working out how to be able to deliver all three?

By the time I returned home – after an excellent day two at the symposium – I still hadn’t resolved this question. One thing I am sure of though, is that my own memory of poor quality service from anyone who does work for me lasts much longer than anything to do with extended timelines or excess budgets.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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5 Responses to Pick Two…

  1. Vince Groppi says:

    I have heard variations of this dictum many times. Here’s what I tell my group:

    When creating a project, a leader must choose only two out of the three options. They can’t have it all.

    Good and Fast = Expensive: When you choose good and fast and a team will postpone every other task to get the job done rigth and on time. When the risk is low, value and competition is strong then this can be a good option.
    Good and Cheap = Slow: When you chose good and cheap and a team will do a great job for a discounted price, but patience is required because higher revenue jobs will take precedent. This is a good choice when compeition is not a big factor.
    Fast and Cheap = Inferior: When you choose fast and cheap and a team will deliver an inferior product but it will be delivered on time. Take this approach when there is high risk

    • Steve Street says:


      Great to hear from you and I really liked this framework – very helpful indeed, especially with the scenarios where each option could/should apply.

      Many thanks



  2. Leslie Sloan says:

    Hey Steve, nice post.
    I respectfully disagree that we have to pick two. If done well, finding real causes to issues/opportunities followed by thoughtful, elegant solutions give us all three. Sometimes we have to have enough vision, patience and faith to see it. More often than not we settle for two.

    • Steve Street says:


      Great comment and contribution – many thanks. Very helpful…if not a little challenging to do!

      Someone else sent me an email saying something similar – his comment was that ‘…There is a way to get all three but it involves revolutionary changes in processes. Most changes people make are minor and do not cause a paradigm shift…’

      Again I really liked this thought both as a commentary as to why we don’t always manage to achieve all three…




  3. Mark Hayward says:


    I agree that a paradigm shift is required to achieve all 3. Nevertheless, it has been shown that all 3 can be achieved simultaneously. The paradigm shift is in the people and the lab. Ordinary is simply not good enough. With extraordinary people, a lab that has state of the art tools & automates most of the labor, and time / desire to build high levels of trust and teamwork (within lab and with customers / providers), all 3 can be achieved. Sure, extraordinary people and state of the art tools cost more. However, such labs only require one third the number of people, use less lab space, and the optimized workflows result in additional savings. The goal is to always have scientists thinking by shifting labor time to thinking time, thereby getting the best value from the scientists. In todays world, winning is the result of thinking, not laboring. The results in the best quality, speed, and cost effectiveness!

    Best regards,

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