Time, quality and cost

Getting a project right is a balancing act. Time, cost and quality tend to pull in different directions, and all have different risks, but a successful project needs to strike the right balance between all three.

You need to balance quality, time, cost - and risk.

On building projects in particular, the three factors mean:

  • the quality of the building for immediate functional needs, and use throughout its life
  • the time needed for the building to be designed, built, fitted out and ready for occupation
  • the cost of the construction, materials and all related expenses including cost in use 

Achieving the right balance of quality, time and cost for your project is key to the success of your project. The balance between these three factors will vary according to the particular requirements of your project, and their impact on each other will be just as unique to your project’s circumstances. 

As the project client, you will need to keep in mind an idea of the various scenarios that could arise if either time, quality or cost were to be prioritised over the other two. Should the need arise, these scenarios would then be explored further – and with others in your project team if appropriate - in order to arrive at informed decisions based on reasoned weighing of the relative risk involved.

For instance, you may have to ask yourself whether you have to complete the project by a particular deadline - or is it more worthwhile in the case of your project to adopt a longer programme in order to save on costs or improve on quality? Remember that missed deadlines can sometimes add to contractor costs, and may mean you have to compromise on the cost of materials, which will in turn affect quality.

Good project and delivery teams will support you in any balancing of time, quality and cost or risk assessment you may have to make.  A good design team should be able to work within a reasonable, set budget; the discipline of limited budget can actually stimulate creativity and innovation. And sound financial management often goes hand in hand with delivering a high-quality project to deadline.

In assessing the cost of a project, you should consider the costs over the entire life of the building rather than just the design and construction costs. This is known as ‘whole-life’ costing. A successful building project will attempt to meet the needs of a building over its entire lifetime. In financial calculations, a lifetime is between 30 and 60 years.

The value of a building over its lifetime will outweigh the initial capital outlay and facilities management costs (ratio about 0.1:1:1.5:15).

The costs of running and managing buildings over their whole life are much higher than the initial capital cost. The diagram above illustrates the ratio of design costs to construction costs to facilities management costs to the value over the building's lifetime, which is about 0.1:1:1.5:15. So a business plan that allows for extra spending on design and construction  to achieve high quality can pay for itself many times over during the life of the building, for instance through lower energy consumption, or the reduced need for repairs. A high-quality design will maximise the sustainability of your project and reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact as well as long-term costs.

Balancing the investment in a project over its life against the benefits it will bring is referred to as the whole-life value.

Selecting the contractors for your project based purely on lowest cost rarely provides the best value. Guidance from HM Treasury on public building procurement makes this clear.
The value over a project lifetime dwarfs the cost of design, construction and management.

Example of how time, quality and cost matters

As the project client, you see the whole picture - others will have their interpretation, but not the full perspective.
Director of projects