Audio: Let Go of Perfectionism [Time – 7:49, File Size – 7.3 MB]
“The idea of perfect closes your mind to new standards.. When you drive hard toward one ideal, you miss opportunities and paths, not to mention hurting your confidence. Believe in your potential and then go out and explore it; don’t limit it.” John Eliot, Ph.D. in Reverse Psychology for Success
“If you give me 90% of what you call ‘perfect,’ we can make a profit, you can have a life, and you won’t burn out. But if you keep trying to close that gap and get it ‘100% perfect,’ you’re gonna drive yourself crazy and screw things up for both of us!” – Anonymous Senior Executive, my first consulting firm
Years ago, when I was just starting my career with a top-notch training consulting firm as a writer and developer of training materials, I was fairly intimidated by my job and by the high-quality work of my co-workers. In response, I tried and tried to get things “perfect,” putting in lots of extra hours, frustrating my family by my late evenings, and developing so much energy around my work products that I frequently engaged in long arguments defending my stuff and why it was “perfect.”
The introductory quote above is from the one of the most senior executives of that company. He delivered it one evening around 7 o’clock when he found me, once again, at my desk working late. He already knew what I came to learn years later, when I was managing my own teams of training developers and media producers: “Perfection” is a fiction… even an indulgence. There are many, many ways to get results in a project. And, rather than achieving a “perfect” result that reflects the vision of one individual, the best project teams generate results that come from collaborative, synthesized, and shared visions – visions that meet the needs of many stakeholders and of which those many stakeholders can be proud!
Reflect on these questions:
- What constitutes “perfection” for our project’s outcomes? (Is this a realistic and comfortably shared vision… or an unreasonable – even arrogant – indulgence of a single team member’s vision?)
- Is anyone on the project team “beating themselves up,” trying to close the gap between 90% and 100% of “perfect?”
- Is someone on the project making life miserable for others by pursuing their own, idiosyncratic vision of “perfection?”
Ask your team:
- What constitutes “perfect” in our deliverables? … in our customer’s ultimate satisfaction?
- Are there areas where we should “dial back” our notions of perfection and maybe build rougher prototypes that aren’t perfect, but would invite collaboration and help us take smaller steps toward valuable outcomes?
- In what areas of the project do you feel that we have unreasonably high expectations? What might be an alternative way to approach these areas?
Project Manager Challenges
- Review this “official” definition of project management: “… the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.” So… it’s okay to meet stakeholder needs and expectations… you don’t always have to exceed them!
- Figure out ways to prove to your team that they are doing great work and that they:
- Shouldn’t drive themselves crazy trying to close the gap between 90 and 100% of perfect.
- Are creating something that is malleable… a prototype, a work-in-progress… that will be tried and applied, with the expectation that it will be modified and improved in increments.
- Might be indulging their unique definition of “perfect” at the exclusion of equally valid definitions of “perfect” from other stakeholders’ perspectives.
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