Mention the phrase that a given job is “good enough” in the workplace, and most people will probably think you’re saying that cutting corners or shoddy workmanship is acceptable. Not so fast. In truth, “good-enough” leaders are actually smart leaders. “Good-enough” leaders are able to get more done with the resources they have because they know there comes a point in which the effort just isn’t worth the expense.
Let me explain with a fictitious, and yet realistic example. Let’s say your firm is working on a new website, which is not an unusual undertaking today, especially when even your home page isn’t that great. In order to meet the needs of your customers in what they want from your site the web developer you hired for the job, we’ll call him “Phil,” has to have the job done in an agreed-upon timeline of 8 months.
Two months later, Phil shows you how the site “pops” in terms of color, font, and point size, and how eye-catching the banner is with your organization’s logo. You show the home page to your team, and everyone is thrilled. The links still aren’t all working, and the pages are booting rather slowly. You’re not thrilled about that, but Phil still has time to figure out the glitches.
Another two months pass, and you find out the links are now working great, and the pages are booting very quickly. Other features your customers were insisting on, like an easier-to-use order form, and a more navigable site in general, are also looking good. But Phil says he’s been thinking about the “look” of the site and thinks that, instead of a single photo, a Slideshow feature that would alternate three different pictures would make more sense to highlight the three main aspects of your EAP: elder care, financial services, and one-on-one counseling. “Okay. Let me run it past my team and see what they think,” you say to Phil. It turns out they agree, but your team also points out that the font and point size of the text aren’t nearly as readable as they thought, so they would like to see Phil make some changes there as well.
One month passes, and this time, after seeing the revisions, the team decides that the point size is now too small and the new color is too hard to read, so “Can Phil change them back?” Meanwhile, you notice that the “request a quote” and “testimonial” links on the home page aren’t working correctly. “I didn’t know those were priorities,” Phil says. “Heck yeah!” you reply.
As you and your team think through your dilemma, you realize that the 8-month deadline that seemed so far away is now less than 90 days out, and so there are some hard decisions that need to be made. While the back-and-forth issues about the font and point size weren’t exactly unimportant because people need to be able to read the text on your site, they were still cosmetic and didn’t affect the overall quality and usability of the site. You find that you have to adjust your expectations from “perfection” to “good enough” in order to meet your commitments to your customers and get the site done on time. What’s more important – a user-friendly site with working links and pages that load quickly, and that’s easy to navigate – or spending a lot of time “tinkering with” areas the average customer probably won’t notice?
This is where good-enough leaders come in. They understand when continuing to debate a “nit-picky” matter isn’t worth the time, and we all know that time is money. Good-enough leaders know not only when to start, but when to stop. The following are several guidelines.
* Establish “good-enough” guidelines upfront. Take the time to discuss with the team where the line is to be drawn. For instance, if the goal is to prepare a presentation for management, it may be acceptable to have different fonts on different PowerPoint slides, but it is not okay to have incorrect data or for the presentation itself to have spelling errors. Establishing clear guidelines with the team helps to reduce rework and decreases the likelihood of misunderstandings.
* Know when to “let things go.” In the case of publishing, the field I work in, “good-enough” decisions, while not called as such, are made all of the time. For example, should a period be inside a quotation mark or outside? Should a given sentence have a long dash or a colon? And what about consistency? Why did one sentence have a long dash while another had a colon? In an ideal world, all of these mistakes are caught and made prior to publication. But in reality, in order for the publication to be printed on time, you might find that while you neglected to catch one mistake, it was the day the pages had to be uploaded to the printer, so you had to let an error go, or risk one mighty upset printer for being late! But overall, were all of the major mistakes corrected such as missing periods, words, misspelled titles, etc.? If yes, you have to say “good enough” and wrap things up. You did your very best in the time you had.
* Separate the “must-haves” from the “nice-to-haves”. Ask yourself, “What is the absolute worst thing that will happen if we don’t meet this need?” Then decide if you can live with the worst case. If you can, it was probably a “nice-to-have” but not a true “must-have.” Big difference!
* It’s worth repeating that “good enough” is NOT an excuse for substandard quality! Being good enough means you understand what needs to be done, and done on time, but it isn’t used as an excuse for shoddy workmanship. Work should still be performed to whatever professional specifications are applicable to your organization. “Good enough” means we aren’t perfect, and so it isn’t realistic for our work to be perfect. Vince Lombardi once said to his Packers team, “Gentlemen we will strive for perfection. We won’t attain it, but in the process we will catch excellence.” “Good enough” can and should mean excellence, not mediocrity.
In summary, I think it’s important to be a “good-enough” leader. You’ll get more done because your team will make better choices on where to spend its time.
Portions of this post are courtesy of Lonnie Pacelli, author of The Project Management Advisor: 18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How to Cut them Off at the Pass.