Speed and Quality

August 24, 2012

Speed and quality are universally contentious. Engineers always choose quality, but claim to value speed. Business owners always choose speed, but claim to value quality. Each side is skeptical of the other’s intentions when their actions seem to contradict their claims. Why does such an ironic and contentious relationship exist between the funder and the implementer? This post is not a referendum on either side: it’s a bi-directional concession letter, between Competent Business Owner and Competent Engineer.

Dear Competent Business Owner: To an engineer, speaking about speed is speaking idiomatically about the fastest responsible pace, which is to say the fastest pace at which acceptable quality can be achieved. When you demand shorter timelines, we perceive that you are undermining our judgment about how long acceptable quality should take — which, by the way, you are, in fact, doing. Negotiate with us, and work with us to understand why we’re taking longer than you would like.

Dear Competent Engineer: Respect the fact that when speaking about code complexity and time lines, you are in an unfair position of leverage, similar to the position an auto-mechanic is in, explaining to a suburban house-wife why an $80 oil change turned into a $600 repair. Abuse this position at the expense of all of our collective credibility. Work with the business owner to explain that your job is mentally taxing, and your synapses need time to fire. Explain that to rush would be to rob them blind in maintenance cost and future feature additions. Negotiate with them, and work to understand why they need you to occasionally cut corners.


John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.