Quality vs. Quantity…or a Little of Both?

by Emily Jasper on July 13, 2010

In Minnesota, there are two seasons: Winter and Construction. Needless to say, if it’s above freezing, there’s road construction all over the place. When I first arrived from Virginia, I kept calling home to my mom saying, “You won’t believe how fast these people move!” Yes, I was in awe of how quickly the road construction progressed, and I felt it was necessary to comment on this regularly.

Outside of Minnesota, it’s just not the same. I drove over the same “Under Construction” section of I-64 in Virginia for almost eight years. My parents have a road leading to their neighborhood that just needs a good rain to turn it into a mudslide. It seems the lack of prograess is always an issue of manpower.

A lot of us know that usually quality wins over quantity. That’s how many us approach dating, in fact. We’d rather it be done right once instead of sub-par ten times. Do it right the first time around, and you don’t have to redo it. Getting the highest quality materials leads to a longer product life.

Quantity can fit in certain circumstances…like money. We always want more. Food of poorer quality has taken over in mass quantities enough that we have national obesity issues. Quantity has backfired in many cases when you ignore quality, such as with work experience. Ten years is valued over three, even if all ten you had the same responsibilities, and in the three, you had two promotions.

So isn’t a little bit of both a good idea?

If we revisit the construction example, those road projects that take forever never seem to have enough people. A crew of five might show up for six hours, four days a week. Not moving too fast at all, and you’re probably endangering drivers with all the construction zones.

In Minnesota, it seemed like there were crews working 24/7, so things got done. I never once got the impression that having all those people meant they were sacrificing quality. You can’t do that in Minnesota because the winter will undo what poor job you did, and you don’t want to do it over again.

It’s a question of scale. Can you have the quality and quantity together?

When it comes to a project, think about factors of scale: resources, time, materials, process, etc. It’s like math. What do you have, what could you increase, what might you need to sacrifice or substitute? In my experience, when scale means that quality and quantity are at odds with each other, it’s often because there are pieces of the equation that haven’t been thought through.

Unfortunately, quality and quantity aren’t always going to be scalable, so when thinking through the equation, understand when it’s not going to add up. Think of the sacrifices you my make or the risks you may take on. When you do the big picture thinking, you can do your best to deliver.

Where are examples where quantity and quality work together? Times when they might work against each other? What other elements should be considered when looking at scale?

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