Sometimes I am tempted to have the three words of this title tattooed on my hand. Or even better, have these words tattooed on other people’s hands! Good, cheap, and fast represent the three corners of what is called a Project Triangle—a graphic example showing the influence of time, resources, and technical objective upon a given project. Basically the idea is that one can successfully accomplish any two of these elements in the outcome of a project, but that having all three is not possible.
- A project can be completed quickly and well, but it’s going to be expensive.
- A project can be completed quickly and cheaply, but it probably won’t be all that it can be.
- A project can be completed cheaply and be really good, but it will take time.
This concept has been so true in my experience that I have come to consider it an undeniable law of the universe. It is surprising how many people and organizations have never heard of this, and do not take these elements into consideration when a new project comes up.
How does the Project Triangle apply to musicians and composers? Take a musical commission. A chamber orchestra wants you to write a brand new 10-minute work for a concert that is two months away. That’s a fast turnaround—you will have to put everything else in your life on hold while you work on the piece. The commissioning fee is $1,000—not very much, but that is the reality of the orchestra’s financial situation. Can you survive on $1,000 for two months, if you have to stop the presses for this commission? Or take a different scenario, that you have a teaching job or are a full-time student, and are in no position to drop off the face of the earth to make this happen. What to do??
Taking into account the principles of the Project Triangle, there are a few options for consideration and negotiation:
- Simply agree to the initial commissioning idea and go for it. The final product might not be truly well done though. (Fast and Cheap)
- Tell the chamber orchestra that you really want to make them a fabulous work, and that given the extremely tight deadline you would have to set aside all of your other projects, which means stopping your flow of income. Is there any way they could add a bit more money to the commission if they really want the work for that particular concert? (Fast and Good)
- Tell the chamber orchestra that you really want to make them a fabulous piece, which would be far more fabulous if they would be willing to present the work on a later concert, maybe in four months, or even next season? This would give you more time to compose, while keeping the commissioning fee at the same rate of $1,000. (Good and Cheap)
There is no correct answer, only different perspectives on the same situation. It depends on values and what end result is most important. The same holds true for companies and organizations, whether the project is building a new website, opening up a new branch of the office, or expanding the services offered by the organization. Careful reframing and negotiation based upon the needs and desires of all parties involved can minimize bumps in the road towards making a plan or venture—musical or otherwise—come to life.