The Universal “Better” Curve

Bobby Gruenewald

If you’re like most ministry leaders, you can count on three things to be a consistent part of your week: a full to-do list, high expectations to deliver quality work, and limited resources to make it all happen. Can you relate?

You might see that as a perfect storm of stress, but I’d like to share why it’s the ideal environment for innovation.

First, let’s look at what’s known as the Cost-Quality Curve, or as I like to call it, the Universal Better Curve.

What’s the Universal Better Curve?

You’ve probably heard this concept described before even if you haven’t seen it. The idea is that there is a point in a project where you don’t get much more bang for your buck. You can invest additional time or money but it yields little measureable improvement.

Cost-Quality CurveAs you can see, after the curve bends, it takes an exponential increase in time, money, or resource to get incremental increases in quality.

If you get high quality results from a week of work, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get four times the results from four weeks of work. If spending $1,000 gets you a great outcome, it might not mean that spending $1 million will make it 1,000 times better.

The best of intentions can drive us to keep chasing after better.

Often we can find ourselves in a relentless pursuit of excellence that burns through resources at an unsustainable rate. Instead, we should stop working on a project near the bend in its curve and invest our time and money in moving a different project up the quality curve.

This concept is definitely useful in guiding us toward better stewardship of our resources. But we can do more with it.

Innovation Bends the Curve

Let’s say you’ve got an important project coming up and you really want to knock it out of the park. It’s time to break the mold on this one. Your team decides to stay late into the evening all week to produce incredible work. Everyone loves it and your team gets applauded for the new standard you’ve set. The problem? You’re past the bend in the Cost-Quality Curve since you invested more for the improved result. That new standard was paid for by trading in your family time, which might be acceptable now and then, but not for the long haul.

Innovation to the rescue.

Cost Quality CurveReal innovation happens when we figure out how to bend the curve—when we get better results while investing an equal or only slightly increased amount of time or money, or we get equal results with less time or money invested. It’s almost like finding something on sale that’s never been discounted before. You’re getting the same product for less of an investment.

We Don’t Have to Pick Two

Too often we succumb to what we believe is the immutable reality of the cost-quality curve. We say things like, “Time. Money. Quality. Pick two.” We take it as a given that we’re going to have to spend more time or more money if we want a better result. We text our spouse and brace them for another late night. We pore over our budget to see where we can eke out needed funds.

Yet what could happen if we raised our sights from what is to what’s possible? Why are some organizations able to achieve better results with similar resources? When we work within constraints, keeping one variable fixed while making progress with the other, real innovation happens.

Life.Church Case Studies

We’ve missed the mark plenty of times at Life.Church, but we’ve also found ways to innovate within our constraints, like these notable examples:

  • At many of our locations, we used to be maxed out at six services per weekend. We couldn’t figure out how to add another service without straining our team. Eventually, one of our campus pastors proposed dividing the weekend into shifts. Part of the team covers Saturday evening through mid-day Sunday, and a different part of the team covers Sunday morning through Sunday evening or Monday evening. The overlap in the shifts gives them extra coverage for peak service times. Now we can offer nine and sometimes ten services at many of our locations. We increased our capacity, engaged more people in serving, and opened up new options for people who struggled to attend at other times.
  • Our YouVersion budget isn’t small, but it’s several orders of magnitude smaller than the operating costs you’d see at most tech companies with a similar scale and scope. We refuse to accept that we have to fall into the same processes they use and we’ve consistently innovated in how we’ve delivered those services. Our tech costs have been flat but YouVersion has managed to grow substantially because we’re achieving new cost efficiencies.
  • In the early days of Church Online, we used to feature live video for the sermon and worship during every experience. This meant we could only offer as many services online as we could at one of our locations (about seven at the time) and we couldn’t reach people who were asleep in a time zone on the other side of the world. We decided to try automating some aspects of the technology for a simulated live worship and sermon experience, and had live hosts serving in the chat area. With that one change, we were able to reach more people, use less staff time, create meaningful volunteer opportunities, and have a more stable experience from a technical standpoint. That laid the groundwork for Church Online to eventually grow to the 71 experiences it offers weekly today. (Learn more about how we do church online at Life.Church.)

Bringing true innovation to your organization doesn’t have to come through technological advancements or huge changes. Sometimes a simple tweak can create a real difference in the amount of time or money you invest, or the results you see. Any time that happens, you’re bending the cost-quality curve and changing the shape of what’s possible for your ministry.

Application Ideas

Look at some of the big projects you’ve got coming up. Could you intentionally shorten your deadline or cut your budget to change the shape of your cost-quality curve?

Bobby Gruenewald

Life.Church Pastor, Innovation Leader

Bobby is passionate about exploring new ideas and finding practical ways to leverage them for the global Church. He oversees the YouVersion, Digerati, Creative Media, Spaces & Places, and Communications teams at Life.Church.

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