How to Make Changes: Fast, Cheap but Not Right

Some ideas follow you around. They stick in your head and come to you in the shower or on the drive home from work.

“Fast, Cheap or Right. Pick two.”

I don’t know where I first came across this. It was decades ago. It’s the kind of thing you see on a sign in a good craftsmen’s workshop. For whatever reason, I think of this sign often.

Recently I polled my twitter peeps (shout out!) about this sign. Here are the results.





Not surprisingly, people voted against “…but not right” in large numbers. There are a number of different ways to interpret this question and what “…but not right” means. Regardless, here is my defence of the 2%.

A Culture of Fast, Cheap but not Right

In the world of technology the culture of fast, cheap but not right is standard. Famously, Facebook’s motto was, until recently, “move fast and break things” (they dropped the “and break things” when they went public). Space X, the first company to create reusable space rockets, created a culture of cheering when rockets would explode on the launchpad.

Every software company in the world has “beta testers”, volunteers who will happily use the latest,  but “not right” software. These beta testers love the chance to try something new, fully aware the software is full of bugs and will crash at any moment. They then report these bugs and crashes, which the company fixes. Beta testers grow to love the software they test, knowing their input helped create the “best” version of the software.

“But if you’re going to do something, do it right!”

I hear you. If you’re going to make a change in your classroom or school you don’t want fast and cheap. You want it done right! Me too.

But what is “right”?

correctly, accurately, properly, exactly, precisely, aright, rightly, perfectly, unerringly, faultlessly, truly

Think back. When was the last time you did something “right”(perfectly, faultlessly) on the first go? Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but when was the last time you actually did something “right”?

The promise of “right” is a mirage. Any change that you make at your school will be varying degrees of “not right”. Improvements can always be made. So why not get started. Now. Fast and Cheap.

How to do it: Fast and Cheap in your classroom

  1. Have an idea. Get excited about it.
  2. Do it. If you have an idea, don’t hesitate. Try it out. Today if possible!
  3. Ask your class for permission to fail. Make the students your beta testers. “I’m going to try something new here. Can you students help me out please”.
  4. Embrace it when you fail. Your students know it’s new, they will be patient with you and your new idea. Beta testers always are.
  5. Ask for feedback. It wasn’t “right”. It was never going to be. Ask students how to make it better.
  6. Do it again. Take on that feedback and do it again. If it was super terrible and not worth repeating, that’s ok. Go back to Step 1.

How to Make a School-Wide Change, Fast and Cheap.

  1. Have an Idea. Don’t wait to make it right, instead…
  2. Find a Beta tester. Find one teacher and tell them your idea. Tell them you’re excited about it but you’re sure it’s not “right” and there will be “bugs”. Ask them to try it for a few weeks and get back to you with improvements.
  3. Make Improvements. Listen to your Beta tester. It wasn’t right, there were bugs. Squash them then try again.
  4. Invite number two. Two Beta testers are better than one! A second teacher can trial this new, improved version on the change and give feedback.
  5. Make Improvements. It’s still not right, but it’s “right-er”.
  6. Invite a department. How is this thing going to scale? Let them know this is a real “Beta test” still. Their opinions and suggestions truly matter. I’d suggest your initial beta testers should be in this group, since they can offer support to new Beta testers.
  7. Make Improvement. If you’re noticing a pattern here, great. Test, Improve, Test, Improve.
  8. Invite a second department. What works for English might not work for maths. More feedback. Let’s make this thing “right-er”
  9.  Now Go! If you’ve made it this far. It doesn’t look much like the initial idea. It is a vastly improved version. It’s almost “right”.

But it won’t ever be right

I’m sorry to say this but it won’t ever be “right”. But after this whole process you’ll have something much better. A culture of “beta testers”, moving fast and cheap in their classrooms, departments and the school.

Fast, Cheap, but not Right. Never Right.


  1. hey Joel – thanks!
    I love your process and the way you have “tested” this theory on all of us too!

    Keep posting your insights pls – they make me think – and are a light read to start or end my teaching day

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