delays

Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

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Winston Churchill photo with the British flag as a background.

The title is a quote from Winston Churchill. I have learned in my career that these behaviors can be very costly from a business perspective, especially when decisions affect large parts of a business. It took me years to learn this lesson as I transitioned from perfectionist to “reformed perfectionist,” which was challenging.

Below are a few examples that could help you better understand people like this, and if you are someone like this, it might even provide motivation to try to change.

Early in my career, as I expanded my role from a Programmer to an Analyst Programmer to a Systems Analyst, I often found myself spending too much time and effort on things that only made a minimal impact. Applications and subsystems looked a little better, ran a little faster, integrated easier, were easier to modify, and generally had fewer problems. Those are all good things, but in hindsight, those benefits often did not justify the associated costs. 

Some industries and applications require a degree of quality and reliability, such as nuclear power plants and lifesaving medical equipment. Since very few things are perfect, there are usually a variety of built-in safeguards to mitigate the impact of errors and failure. I have worked on a few of those systems, and I get it. But they are not in the majority. 

Identifying the intersection of meeting the stated requirements, delivering the required quality, and knowing what “good enough” looks like is essential. That point is where there are diminishing returns on every additional hour spent on an activity.

I worked with a hardcore perfectionist at a small software and services company. On a consulting engagement, he spent two days on a task that I viewed as having a 2-4 hours level of effort. We discussed it, and he told me he had at least three more days to finish. We had a heated discussion, and he was frustrated with me for a while. Years later, he admitted I was right, talked about how difficult it was to change, and how much more productive he is now. 

I consulted with a small software company that spent 10+ years on a SaaS product and was still “just two to three weeks away” from their MVP (minimally viable product). I started working with them over three years ago, and they are still at that point today. 

I have also sold to companies stuck in analysis paralysis because they (leaders and teams) are always second-guessing decisions and want to be 100% certain before making a decision. Those companies need to solve a problem, or they would not be seeking a solution. In most cases, making an informed decision on a proven solution now will solve their problems and deliver value quickly. There is an actual business cost for every month of delay. 

Are these behaviors costing you or your company money? If yes, dig a little deeper to understand the potential positive impact making small changes could have. Daily improvement is a great thing!