July 12, 2016
The Speed vs. Quality Debate
I love moving fast. Anyone that has spent any time around me knows that I am always looking for ways to improve efficiency, move quicker, and go faster. But there’s a very dangerous downside to speed. The first thing usually sacrificed when you are seeking speed is the quality of what you’re doing. This leads to a very real challenge which do you focus on and when should you focus on speed instead of quality; or conversely, when should you prioritize quality over moving faster. This is the question I’d like to look at quickly in this post.
Honestly, I entitled the post using the word debate because it’s a discussion, or debate, that I hold frequently with myself. So to help answer the question we’ll look at what speed means and the benefits of speed, then the definition of quality and what the benefits of quality are and lastly we’ll explore if it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.
First, what does speed mean and what are the benefits of moving quick? I have spent some time thinking about this and have ended up with three big benefits for putting a priority on progress.
Faster to Market: Whether you’re the new kid on the block, the youngest business entering an industry, or the established enterprise leader building on a legacy of success there is tremendous advantage to being the first mover. You’ll be the trendsetter and the business by which others measure their success. Being faster to market means you set the stage, the tone, and the expectations for the market. This is definitely a big advantage to being fast.
Innovation Leader: This benefit is very similar to the first but I decided it was unique enough to be its own. Innovation is a funny thing. Sometimes you’re perceived as innovative if you bring a new idea to the market, obviously speed helps you do this. But there are also those times where you’re speed to adapt to a newly identified market also gives you an incredible advantage. You might not be the fastest to the market, but the speed with which you innovate within a fast-growing space still yields big results.
Continuous Improvements: The final benefit attached to speed over quality comes from the ability to quickly iterate and make improvements to the product. Mark Zuckerberg is famous for saying,
“Move fast and break things.”
The underlying emphasis is not necessarily on breaking things but on moving fast and fixing things when they are broken, in other words, continuous improvement. Clearly this state of continually finding, fixing, and improving a product requires moving fast. Speed demonstrates to your customers that you are dedicated to providing the best product as quickly as possible.
Secondly, we need to look at the value and benefits attached to creating quality. Quality takes time, thought, and constant tuning. Here are the three benefits I believe come from putting quality as the highest priority.
Reliability: This benefit almost seems to be in juxtaposition to the Zuckerberg quote we looked at earlier. In this situation breaking things is bad. When you focus on delivering a top-shelf quality experience you have the added benefit of supporting a reliable product. Reliability is an inherent benefit of doing things “right”. Your product is considered a quality product when it’s reliable and works as expected.
Polished: As with the benefits of speed above there are a couple of quality benefits which appear at first glance to be overlapping, but I would suggest that the concept of a polished product is unique enough to be a separate benefit. A polished product means the user experience in the moment is exceptional. Whereas reliability is the ongoing successful benefit of quality, polished is the instantaneous benefit of quality.
Impressive: The final benefit I’ll mention for quality is that when something is just done right from start to finish the feeling left with the customer is an impressive one. Want to impress your audience? Deliver a quality product. Think for a minute what draws you to a particular product. If you hear about something from a friend, and they are struck with the high quality delivered you’ll be interested in checking it out for yourself. The impressiveness of a quality product encourages viral sharing.
I realize I’ve structured this post as an either or solution between speed or quality. In reality, the best situation is a careful intentional balancing between the two. This might appear hard and at times you’ll certainly have to select one over the other but the vast majority of time you can put in a little thought and effort and balance these two forces and achieve the greatest benefits of both. Here’s how that might look.
Speed with Quality: When you’re attacking a new market or entering a new space the benefits of speed provide you the greatest value. But you can (and should) still put thought into delivering a quality experience. You may not be as reliable but you can certainly be impressive. Remember being impressive means a focus on the overall user journey. You may have stumbles at points in the process but the overarching experience is positive. You can absolutely focus on this while delivering quickly.
Quality with Speed: Once you’ve established yourself in an industry and you have maybe become a bit more senior in the space you will be focused more heavily on quality. You want to make sure the product is polished, the overall experience optimized, and ultimately the product highly reliable. But again, this is a balancing act and you can still introduce speed into this environment. You can move fast. You can continue to innovate. In fact, your position as the incumbent gives you a unique opportunity to provide new features and push boundaries faster than others.
Ultimately, as with everything in life. Moderation and balance is the key. Too much of anything is a bad thing and once you’ve been able to identify the proper blend of quality and speed instead of quality or speed you will find the greatest success. And just like a seesaw, this is a process which must be constantly evaluated and adjusted. A mix that worked for you at one point in your company history might not be the most successful at a later stage. The goal is therefore to be intentional in balancing speed and quality and find the best mixture at every stage in your business.