Good, Fast, & Cheap – Pick Two

Share This:

You’ve begun to narrow down your options for research providers, and now it’s time to make some real decisions on how to proceed with your market research project.  Ideally, you want a comprehensive project done quickly and that is kept under budget. However, these three qualities, Good, Fast, and, Cheap, are a little like that saying about college: “Study, Sleep, Social Life- you get to pick two”. The three factors will almost always work against one another so it’s impossible for any project to hit that trifecta. Unfortunately, that means you might have to compromise, but you can still reach your goals if you’re willing to give up something from one of those three. Your options? “Good and Fast”, “Good and Cheap”, and “Fast and Cheap”. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each of these options to help guide you to the option that will work best for your situation.

Good and Fast:

If getting comprehensive insights quickly is your goal, it will likely not be cheap.  Skipping or skimping on key steps, such as testing a survey before its launch, or quality assurance steps to ensure you’re getting responses you can use (i.e. monitoring responses during data collection or comprehensive data cleaning at the end) could help. However, this can result in too many cut corners, or questionable data. Those skipped steps are safeguards that ensure you receive quality data.

However, if you’ve got a project that absolutely needs an accelerated timeline and high-quality data, there are options to help move things along.

  • Much of the time spent on a project is time spent in the field, so one option is to give large incentives to motivate a higher percentage of potential respondents to participate, thus cutting back on the length of time spent looking for the right respondents.
  • You may choose to pay more for your research partner to spend extra analyst time and labor hours to quickly produce quality data.
  • Timelines can be compressed. If you’re conducting a field study in multiple markets, instead of shipping your prototypes from Market A to Market B, you may wish to develop two of the same prototypes and run your study concurrently. Note this is likely to utilize an additional project manager and supplier resources, but your timing can be significantly reduced.

While some research suppliers have different definitions of “fast”, it’s important to keep in mind that accommodations can be made when “fast” isn’t fast enough.  When you’ve got a “crash and burn” schedule, your research partner may be able to accommodate you, but you should expect to pay a premium—anywhere from 10-20%, depending on the particular situation. That will help make sure nothing slips through the cracks while keeping to an abridged schedule. Keep in mind, your research partner should always bend over backwards to make sure your project goes according to your specifications, but extra person-hours result in additional costs for everyone involved.

When Good and Fast is appropriate: You have an accelerated timeline and you have the additional budget to make the tradeoffs your research partner needs to dedicate additional resources to your project.

Good and Cheap:

Just as it’s not ideal to have a research project that cuts corners to save time, cutting corners to save money can also have an impact on how much comprehensive data you receive. However, you may have an opportunity to save money if you’ve got a project that is not time sensitive. If that’s the case, make sure you let your research partner know up front. That way they can work with you to find options to keep the costs of the project down.

If a project is not time sensitive, there are other options for keeping the costs down. For example:

  • Re-use your product prototypes by going to different markets sequentially rather than conducting research concurrently in multiple markets. Depending upon your product, developing prototypes for market research can be very costly.
  • Explore finding respondents via social media.
  • Conduct your study with respondents who do not require incentives.
  • Provide your own list of customers as a respondent pool, rather than paying for a supplier panel.

Note, each of these latter three could cause a lower response rate to your survey. In order to have enough responses to draw statistically sound conclusions, the survey will have to remain in the field longer, which slows down the turnaround time for data you can use.  It is also critical that you do not sacrifice respondent quality for cost.

While you may feel that you can save significant money by writing your survey and analyzing the results on your own, many quality full service research partners urge caution. These partners have staff that dedicates every hour of every day to exactly these tasks and you’ll find that they are exceptional at doing them. your cost saving efforts instead of planning your research well in advance, as part of your product planning cycle and you will find that you can better meet your research budget.

When Good and Cheap is appropriate: You have a project that isn’t time sensitive, and you can work with your research partner to adjust some project specs.

Fast and Cheap:

Given that we strive to make every research project “excellent”, we would never condone research that isn’t at the very least “good”. It is never worth it to give up usable and actionable results for speed and cost. So in this case, we’ll use the term “good” as a proxy for “comprehensive”. With this in mind, we understand that  there are times where you’ve got neither the time nor the budget to get data that goes as deep as you’d like. That doesn’t mean that the data you get is suspect, but it does mean you may not be able to do as much with it. Providing a customizable marketplace simulation or conducting methodologies like a maxdiff or conjoint could add valuable context to your data but are costly and take more time.

For a simple survey, fast and cheap is certainly a viable option, but anything more comprehensive cannot, by nature, be done both quickly and cheaply. You may have saved by using online resources (such as Survey Monkey, or other online survey hosts), but that won’t always allow for complex survey designs or multiple approaches to the available data. You’ll also miss out on utilizing the high powered specialized resources of your research partner (for example, The Stevenson Company has a PhD statistician and 2 PhD Economists on staff for complex statistics and modeling).


When fast and cheap is appropriate: You need information to make a quick decision, but it doesn’t have to be comprehensive – you have a few quick questions to ask and you need those answers yesterday!

Good, Fast, and Cheap- the good news is that you don’t have to pick just one…the bad news: it’s tough to have all three!  As you begin to structure your research project, identify your key objectives. By planning ahead, at least two of the three criteria will be easily met, and you’ll have found a happy medium with the third. For example, you may be able to execute on Good and Cheap, and Fast will become “reasonable”. By examining all the options available to you, and by weighing the pros and cons, you’ll be able to design the best project for your needs based on your resources and limitations. Despite the challenges, you’ll be aware of any limitations in your project and able to find creative solutions to keep everything on schedule, on budget, and actionable.