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.