Insights June 12, 2013

Cost, Time and Quality

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There is a well-known triangle with Cost, Time and Quality at the vertices.  The diagram suggests a balance between these elements whereby prioritising any one will result in a less-than-ideal impact on the other two.

For small projects, when a project is underway, it is often the case that the client may not appreciate the relationship between cost, time and quality.  This is not a case of clients who are malcontent or who have wilfully reneged on a previous agreement .  We have found that it is really the case of clients not being experts in the design field for which they have hired design professionals.  It almost sounds ridiculously obvious to say, but is worth repeating: clients hire designers and are not designers themselves.

What doesn’t help the situation is that we often fail to emphasise that our role as designers goes beyond purveyors of aesthetics to being advisers in a domain where the client needs guidance.  Whether we are involved in a publicity campaign of logos and flyers or we are designing a building, our clients have come to us not just to make the project look good, but to make it technically achievable, cost effective, and also be fit for the purpose of the brief.  In order to do that, we have to understand not only the relevant parts of the delivery chain, but also how trade-offs made along the way might impact the final outcome.  Just before we start a project, we need to particularly emphasise to a client that they can count on us to help them make decisions about implementation rather than just give them an image.

Where things get particularly muddled is when our clients commission us to a mid-way point in the project delivery path.  An understanding of project management is required to be able to appreciate the relationship of cost, time and quality with the situation at hand.  At that point, whether printers or contractors are involved, there are often times questions which require the client to consider this triangle, and unfortunately, their expertise is limited (which is why they had hired professionals in the first place). Sometimes, our clients will turn to us and ask us for our input.  It is often difficult to refuse as we are smitten with the vision of the design and want to see it delivered in the highest quality manner achievable.  However, what we should do is suggest to the client that perhaps they are not able to manage the project from design to delivery.  Rather than continue to muddy the water by making decisions outside of our scope of engagement, perhaps the best thing for everyone to do would be to clarify that maybe our on-going skills as advisors are required as much as our initial skills as designers.

Clients for small projects certainly feel the strain of tight budgets.  Having stages of work can help them limit the project spend on professional services, while also giving them a chance to assess just how much skill they have at project management.  For those clients that get to a point in the project delivery where they feel they are swimming in too deep waters, offering additional services may seem not only desirable, but perhaps even a life-saver.


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