Challenge 2: A tight budget (Part III)


Can you see the garden edge between the chuckies and the soil?  That’s a board from a pallet, lovingly cut and set in by my partner.  For us, the high quality comes from it doing its job (ie, dividing the stones from the soil) and it being an environmental option (ie, it is a reused item, and it will also bio-degrade over time).  It was low cost–actually free.  But the trade-off was that dismantling the pallet and getting the board in the ground made it a slower job than other options.

This continues the series I have been doing on the challenges of my garden.  This is the third part of the challenge of a tight budget.  You can read Part I here, and Part II here.

As I was writing the previous posts on this challenge, a model from the deep, dark days of architecture school came back to me.  It is taught in project management classes, and it has clarified some of the thoughts that I have had as I explain the “upsides” of a tight budget.  It is called the Cost-Quality-Time Model and it looks like this:


In all projects there are these three aspects (at the corners)–low-cost, high quality, and speed–that we desire for our creative projects.  See the black triangle in the middle?  That is the triangle of impossibility.  It is the perfect project coming together at the perfect price, at the perfect time.  Yep.  Impossible.  You get to choose only two from cost-quality-time and you must compromise on the third.

Most of us have been in (or, unfortunately, lived in) houses or flats that have been built very quickly with cheap labour, cheap materials, and cheap techniques.  These places are examples of projects for which the developers have chosen to compromise on quality.  An example of a compromise on cost is when you have guests coming to dinner and you want to impress them with a beautiful 5-course meal, but you have only 1/2 an hour to come up with something.  Instead of cooking, you nick down to the fancy restaurant down the road and buy a number of dishes from their menu, spending a pretty penny in the process.

When I originally learned this model, I understood it in a negative light–that whatever you do, you will have to compromise, and compromise sucks and is to be avoided in all cases.  Well, I have learned a few things about life since then, and to be sure, compromise cannot be avoided.  And it doesn’t always suck.

As the name of this blog may suggest, I have chosen to compromise on speed.  I really want a high quality garden, and due to my financial constraints right now it must be a low-cost project.  So according to this Cost-Quality-Time model, I am to compromise on speed.  You might be thinking, “wait–aren’t we just talking about a tight budget in this particular challenge?”  I would say to that financial constraints and speed (and quality) are so interconnected that it is almost impossible to think about one without the other two–with a small budget as a real constraint, and high quality as a primary desire, what I am left with is to compromise on speed.

To me, compromising on speed actually doesn’t feel like a compromise much of the time.  There are downsides, which I will mention so you don’t think I am completely deluded, but on the whole I think they are easy for me to get beyond when I think of the positives.  So, downsides: the garden is a low priority (both financially and time-wise) when other home maintenance things come up; it can be frustrating knowing and seeing what needs to be done, but having to wait for help or money; and sometimes having more time to work out problems means that the solution can end up being over-worked or over-designed.

However, I have chosen to grow slowly because, like Slow Food, Slow Build, Slow Cities, and other slow movements, I can see the inherent benefits and they outweigh the negatives.  Because it is a slow project, there is time to be creative and find the best quality solution, whether the problems sit on the back burner in my mind or are being worked out in the field.  Slow projects mean there is time to invite other people into the process.  Slow projects are often more mindful projects, where the maker has a connection to the materials and the process.  And finally, in being more mindful (for example, in reusing materials and employing people-power), the slow project is also often a more gentle and environmental choice.

When this model finally made its way out of the recesses of my mind, I felt some of the frustrations with my garden project easing.  It has been helpful to be able to understand why time is a compromise, whether or not I mind it much of the time.  It has also given me a clearer sense of the benefits of working within a narrow budget.

Can you think of how this model might have applied to any of your projects, gardening, knitting, cooking, or otherwise?





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