Nothing in life is perfect, no one, no company, no product and no marketing. It’s not something anyone want’s to admit, but everything and everyone can always get better.
People que in the rain for days to get the latest brand new model of sneakers or the latest i-gadget from apple on the day of release. And these products are (in the minds of the queuers) awesome, but I would add they are never perfect.
If Apple or Nike were to only release products when they were “perfect” they would never actually release a product and I wouldn’t be writing about them now, because they wouldn’t exist as companies.
Of course there is the other side of this coin and that is products, people and companies that are not good enough. I know many of them, we all do.
We all strive in the direction of perfection, but most of us know when something is good enough to share.
There is a simple way of looking at this. Imagine you want to build a new sound system for your living room. You can buy a complete solution for $99 from your local retailer, and when you plug it in, you will hear something, but it may sound a little unreal, and maybe it could be better. So you upgrade to a $500 system that now sounds much better. But it can get better so you go and buy a $5000 system, and this now sounds wonderful. But if you want to be able to make out the individual violins in the orchestra you could spend $50,000 or $500,000 or $5,000,000. And while the more you spend the better the sound you will hear, there is a point when the difference is so infinitesimally small, that there is just no reason to spend any more. At some point before that, you hit the law of diminishing returns, when the more you spend the less impact the difference makes. And we all make the choice of where this is for every project we’re working on.
Everyone needs to be responsible for helping move in the direction of perfect, but equally we all need to know when the law of diminishing returns outweighs the advancement that is being made.
In great teams everyone is empowered to decide when the part they are working on is good enough. That’s how projects are managed to ensure that time and resources and carefully used to achieve goals.
In some weak teams the idea of perfection is held up as an achievable goal. This means that the team is being setup to fail. In these teams the leaders are often weak willed, unsure and scared to make a decision. We all know these people, these are the ones that make every possible excuse to delay, overspend and under deliver. And are the first ones to throw their teams under the bus the second a mistake is made.
In other weak teams, quality below an acceptable level is accepted, so as to allow projects to move along. In these teams the leaders are more interested in promotion for themselves than the project. They don’t expect to be around when the project is complete and so are not interested in the consequences.
Quite simply both models are wrong.
Great teams are empowered to make decisions as to when the law of diminishing returns shows them that the work is good enough to move ahead. Great teams know exactly how their projects output will be consumed, by whom and when. They have passion for what they are doing. Great teams are made up of people who truly understand what they are doing and why, and are lead by people who are active members of the team. Decisions are made openly and honestly, and the whole team is responsible for the results.
I have had the honor to work with some of the greatest business leaders in the world, and equally I’ve worked with a couple of incredibly bad people who had weaseled their way into leadership positions for which they were totally unprepared and unsuitable. I’ve learnt from both groups. From the former the skills of leadership, teamsman-ship, honor, respect, business and loyalty and from the latter the ability to spot, avoid (where possible) and manage (where not) assholes.
A model I’ve found very helpful is to express all work by the 80:20 rule. We all know that for nearly all projects 80% of the work gets done in the first 20% of the time with the first 20% of the resources. While the last 20% of the work, takes 80% of the time and 80% of the resources.
If you ask several individuals to grade the difference between 85% or 95% right they will not agree which is better. Because there is a point when a product is “right enough”. If you ask a team to decide when a project is right enough, over time they will work out the best way to manage projects to get the best results in the best time with the least resources, and this leads to the highest practical levels of quality.
I’m not suggesting that projects be marked complete before they are ready. But when you recognize that every project is always under resourced, under funded, time constrained and over committed, then you are already deciding to make some choices. Empower the whole team with these choices and you will get the best results.
If a senior manager tells you that nothing but 100% perfect is acceptable then instantly they have self-identified as a complete asshole and you should act appropriately to manage them.
Remember the job of an asshole is to pass crap downwards.