Why your document can’t be fast, cheap, and good

screenprint by Anthony Oram
screenprint by Anthony Oram

Matthew Stibbe, a marketing writer, inspired this post with his Fast, good or cheap? Choose two. Anyone who manages the process for creating a product can use this mantra to describe their constraints. Here’s the perspective from a musician. And one from a graphic designer. So here’s how I would explain the situation from the perspective of a workplace writer.

The example scenario. You are an Information Systems Security Analyst whose boss asks you to complete an on-site examination to determine the level of security deficiency at the company’s Data Center. A preliminary ISO 27002 audit shows that the Data Center has not implemented all five recommendations from the previous audit. You conduct your investigation and find one area of deficiency. Now you have to document your findings for your boss in an email.

1. The Speedier and Cheaper Document

This document is low quality. It’s easy to produce because speed and cost are closely related in the creation of workplace documents.

The less time you spend writing the email message, the faster it will be delivered to your boss. To reduce writing time, you can minimize planning time before you draft your message and then spend no time testing or revising it. I’d wager the quickest drafting technique would be with dictation software during your on-site visit.

Following a production model, the basic cost of your email is determined by your salary and the time it takes to produce the email.  (This ignores the critical costs associated with your reader. In production, those costs are allocated under quality.) You can limit cost by simply emailing the narrative text created with your dictation software. You can also cut costs by spending less on gathering information for the email. Cut the time you are on-site. Or your boss could have asked the person with the lowest salary to conduct the examination.

The consequence of delivering this document is that your boss — and anyone else who ever needs the details — has to spend a lot of time looking for the information they need about the company’s data security issues. The order in which you performed your examination is not going to be the best order for presenting your findings to your readers. Likely, the fact that one area is still deficient is going to be buried in the middle.  As a professional, these documents harm your reputation.

2. The Cheaper and Higher Quality Document

This document is not created quickly. It’s more difficult to produce than the speedier/cheaper document because cost influences quality. You can enhance the quality of the narrative text created with dictation software by sending it to an editor (with a lower salary that yours) and having her test/revise it so that it’s more likely to meet your company’s and boss’s needs. Then she can send it back to you so you can deliver it to your boss.

The consequence of delivering this document is that your readers are likely to get the information they need about the company’s data security. But your boss will have to wait for it. No doubt she’s working under a deadline. As a professional, I don’t think you can afford to produce only cheaper/higher quality documents if you want to be valued by your employers, customers, vendors, etc.

3. The Speedier and Higher Quality Document

This document is not cheap to create. Again, it’s more difficult to produce than the speedier/cheaper document because speed influences quality.  You can enhance the quality of the narrative text created with dictation software by building your expertise in writing informative email. Although it will require some time (maybe 30 minutes) to organize and revise the text, someone with pro writing status can produce the required email from the dictated text more quickly than someone with less skill.

The consequence of delivering this document is that your readers understand the company’s data security situation quickly. As a professional, these documents are the ones that enhance your reputation.

Final Thoughts

Writing this post was terrific exercise. I found it difficult to tease apart the practices that distinguish between cost and speed. I can’t make myself produce a speedier/cheaper document.   So don’t ask.  I prefer to produce the speedier/higher quality document.  But I sometimes recommend to others that they go for the cheaper/higher quality document.

What do you think?

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