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Speed vs. Quality: The Timeless Dilemma

It's not always easy to know when to prioritize between speed or time in business, and there may not be one right answer.

Should leadership prioritize speed or quality? It depends on the situational context, but even then, the right answer can be far from obvious. According to a recent Forbes Business Development Council post, this dilemma isn’t even considered as one of the top 14 challenges that business leaders are facing in 2021. However, when you look closely and read between the lines, the proper balance between speed and quality can help mitigate many of the issues that are front and center.

To state the obvious, it’s not always possible to complete every task or project to the highest possible degree within the necessary timeline. Time has a habit of moving more quickly than anticipated when you’re working against a deadline, and most initiatives are often interrupted by unforeseen roadblocks or alternative priorities. In the never ending battle of sacrificing time for quality or vice versa, here are a few things to consider.

Prioritizing Between Important and Important

Everything that you need to get done is important, which can make prioritizing difficult. When you have multiple tasks, take a moment to analyze everything that’s currently on the table and decide on the best order in which to execute them. For non-learship employees, this is often a much easier practice, as you should prioritize what’s most important to your manager or ask them directly.

For business leaders, finding the balance that will result in the optimal outcome is much more difficult. There are always tradeoffs between emphasizing one over the other, and it can be a stressful challenge to determine the best approach, particularly when the impact on your business is high.

You want to be detailed, thorough and tenacious to offer the best product or service to your customer, however, the reality is that customers expect their needs to be met at a faster and faster clip, and you have to keep up if you want to stay afloat.

The Need for Speed

In today’s world, speed of service is becoming a key metric in improving your customer experience. In a study from PWC, 80% of American consumers point to speed as one of the most important elements of their customer experience, and outside of the U.S. customers value speed even more. Speed can mean a variety of things, ranging from instant customer service to complex same-day delivery of a product. In fact, nearly 50% of consumers say they would pay extra to increase the speed of delivery. If you fail to produce at a faster speed, your competition will run laps around you. Adapt, or die.

But here’s the catch: you don’t necessarily have to compromise quality when it comes to speed.  If you audit your processes, for example, you look to improve both speed and quality, and more often than not, a continued emphasis on quality will ultimately result in increased speed down the line.

A quick side note here is that this tradeoff pertains much more to industries that are less sensitive to the advent of AI and automation, such as consulting and certain software development.

When Speed Leads to Quality

Engineer, statistician, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming notes in his Points for Management that emphasizing high quality within your processes will reduce the number of mistakes and need for inspection, eventually leading to improved speed.

Of course, every company will face situations where speed is of the essence. Deadlines are real and can inhibit our ability to work or perform within our best abilities. However, in day to day operations, with time and repetition comes efficiency, and with efficiency comes speed, so take the time to get it right the first time. Ensure high quality and minimal mistakes from the outset.

The Conclusion

There is no definitive answer. Speed and quality are two sides of the same coin. They are both critical to providing the best possible experience to your customers. However, when you’re stuck in the dilemma of prioritizing one over the other, take time to assess the exact needs and expectations of your customer, the product or service you’re offering, and the industry trends. This can help you determine whether speed or quality will be more valuable in that given context.

Ultimately, you want to optimize both, but if you can understand how your customers feel and what they think when engaging with your service or product, you can maximize the customer experience. And at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer.


Peter Lesser

Peter is a recent MBA graduate of Northeastern University with a vast, diverse background in brand management, innovation, design and more. Prior to graduate school, he began his career in New York City as a freelance brand consultant and multimedia producer for tech startups. Over time, he shifted into the hospitality industry, co-founding his own restaurant consultancy that worked with new and struggling enterprises. In 2017, he returned to Boston to pursue his MBA with a focus in corporate innovation. Peter is a lifelong musician and adventurer. When not working, you can find him playing music, hiking deep into the mountains, or watching his favorite TV shows with his partner in Boston, MA.

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