December 24 – The struggle between timeliness and quality.

December 24. “People forget how fast you did a job – but they remember how well you did it.” (Howard W. Newton)

Oh, if only this were true. In the fast paced world in which we live, deadlines become paramount in importance. Sometimes I worry that our quest to do things cheaper and faster becomes a sacrifice of quality. At work I know that I am bound by a timeline. If I produce a stellar result, but it comes in late, then I am marked down. If I do that often enough, I am considered a low achiever. It won’t matter that I got the right answer, with high quality; the fact that I persistently missed the deadline will be what people remember.

We recently had a large-scale reconstruction of one of the major highways near where I live. The construction period was an enormous inconvenience for commuters for the better part of 9 months. The freeway, and many bridges spanning it, were completely rebuilt. At the end of it all, the freeway opened one week earlier than planned, to much fanfare.

I dearly hope that a quality job was done on this stretch of road. It would be sad if 10 years from now it was crumbling and in need of serious repair. If that is the case, then yes, people will focus on the quality rather than the fact that it ended early. In the meantime, though, the focus is on how fast they did the job, and how quickly the road was opened. The contractor earned a reward for early completion. If the road crumbles in a few years I don’t know that the contractor will be held accountable.

I want to believe in this quote. I want to believe that quality matters more than the clock or calendar. But, sadly my experience with the world tells me otherwise.

On this Christmas Eve, my reflection is on the importance of both quality and timeliness. It’s a fine line to walk, and in the long run, quality should always be the better choice.

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