August 27, 2015 Anil Saxena

The Misunderstood Notion Of Perfection

After a very interesting conversation with my wife, I decided to explore the balance between perfection and completion.  She believes that there is such a rush to get things done that there isn’t a focus on right, good or correct.  As usual…it seems like she is on to something.
There is a zeitgeist in business today that believes done is good and even a mantra:

Done is better than perfect“.  But is that so? 
Is it really better that products should be pushed out than if they are correct?  No, not really
Although Apple is known for it’s outstanding products, the operating system launch when they replaced Google Maps with iMaps was an unmitigated disaster.  They were met with a huge backlash from users that were upset at the unannounced change.  iMaps was not as useful and had less features.  Some newer Apple customers responded by dropping their Apple products entirely.
But there is a dichotomy at play.  Although products and projects need to be correct, do they need to be perfect?  That depends on your definition of perfect.
The adjective perfect is defined as:
Make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible.
Perfection is defined as:

The condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

To often the notion of perfection is misunderstood.  Managers, leaders, teachers, etc. search for the holy grail of imperfection or flawlessness.  They push for a final product that has:

• The exact right word
• Phrasing that makes people weep
• User interfaces that have customers raise their gaze to the skies and see the face of their god (gods or whatever)
Essentially, they push for “Unattainable Flawlessness”. That is not only unrealistic, but a HUGE waste of time.

Anyone who’s ever developed a product, worked on a piece of art, slaved over a project for weeks or months with looming deadlines and an audience to impress – anyone who has ever put themselves through this torturous process knows how hard it is to stamp the final seal, to step away from a project and call it “finished.”
The need to polish every imperfection and pour over every last detail is hard to resist, but does it really do any good?
• Particularly for a company developing new products, holding back a product release because it “isn’t perfect” is just foolish. Here’s why:
• It won’t be perfect anyway; there will always be something else to tweak or improve.

“Sometimes it’s best to launch a product before it’s perfect.”

“Psychologically, work teams will become more expedient and start to think of the project in smaller chunks rather than as an insurmountable giant.” – Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance
• The longer you keep it from customers’ hands, the longer the company has to wait for real user feedback (which will likely call for more changes).
◦ Google, Apple, Microsoft and many other organizations frequently launch products to get them out on the market.  Then they collect user data to make them better. Sometimes they even come up with ideas that make the product function more effectively than originally planned!
The people behind the product may feel like any imperfection will raise questions about their overall ability and quality of work, but this is usually not the case at all.
Small flaws in the first run of a product (or even a service) are almost expected, and through review and customer feedback, the imperfections can be addressed and resolved through subsequent versions. This is the regular course of action – so the delays in first-round release do little but stretch out the time needed to process feedback and get later, more finely tuned versions into the hands of the public.
It’s a problem of overprotection on the part of the company. In an effort to have a successful launch and highly satisfied customers, they actually delay product releases, disappointing customers and giving the company name a much worse blemish than an imperfect product ever would.
Products should be in “final” shape before it ever hits the shelves or is rolled out:

• Spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, etc. should be correct
• Products should work as expected
• Parts should not be missing
• Customer service should be aware of changes and anticipate customer needs
There has to be a balance between done and perfect.
• On one hand –
◦ Spending too much time looking for every last flaw is a waste of energy, and delays getting the feedback that really matters. Get it into the customers’ hands, and they’ll find the imperfections for you.
◦ On the other –
▪ Customers have an expectation that the product or service will work as advertised.  Don’t let things go out that don’t function as expected or show the organization in a bad light!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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