I’ll Only Stop When It’s Perfect

In my final post in my six part series, I summarize everything into what I was driving our team towards: perfection. Out of the six posts in this series, this is the one I have thought about the most in terms of disagreeing with myself after reflection. Like the rest of the posts, let’s start off with this part of my “words of wisdom” email.

Related: Words of Wisdom and a Customer Focus

Perfection is the Only End Point

Some may argue perfection is not always possible, but I disagree: the only goal you should ever have is perfection. Anything other than perfection is decided by you and is called settling. Settling is not a bad thing, but it is a choice you make. Whether there is not enough time, money, tools, etc when you decide to stop, it is your decision. Work towards perfection, make decisions that drive perfection, and stop when the resources required to reach perfection are no longer justifiable for the added gain between where you are now and what it will take to get to perfection. Read about how Henry Ford Health System’s Behavioral Health department eliminated suicides here. If that is not perfection, I don’t know what is.

Reflection

As I mentioned, I have thought about this one quite a bit. Specifically, I think the goal of perfection should be applied in some contexts and in some situations but not in others. Focusing on perfection for the wrong goal or at the wrong time can lead to negative outcomes. As an example, I recently read an article titled “Eight Sings Your Perfectionism Is Out Of Control” and a line from the article said you should move from being a perfectionist to an optimalist. I really liked that way to put it because that is what I was trying to convey in my email, but I wasn’t as elegant with my words. Furthermore, in the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues the concept of “Good Enough” as being the basis for an outlier. I think the concept of being an optimalist is really knowing when it is ok to be “Good enough.”

One of the challenges to the “Good enough” approach or even an Agile approach, however, is that good enough or optimal can both be subjective. Furthermore, continuous improvement with an Agile approach is reliant on continued resources and prioritization to get to the optimal solution. I know I personally have heard individuals or leaders say “let’s just do this and we can tweak it later” just to see that “later” never come. In this case, maybe driving a little harder to “perfection” would have been worth the effort.

If I had to generalize where having a goal of perfection is a good idea and where it is not, I may argue that having goals for an organization or group to rally around, such as when General Motors’ Mary Barra stated that “GM’s vision is a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion” is one area where having perfection as the end goal can be a good idea. In automotive terms, this example is perfection and is similar to the zero suicide example I gave previously. Where perfection may not be an ideal goal is on smaller projects where the cost of perfection outweighs its value to the customer – in this case, optimal is sufficient.

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