I read an interesting essay by one of my business professors last night, concerning the tension between getting things done and getting things right. In some ways, it’s a restatement of the Principal of Good Enough, or of Pareto’s Principal: the idea that you are done when you get most of what you want.
It all reflects a tradeoff between value and effort.
Without some effort, nothing happens, delivered value rises as skilled effort is applied. At some point, though, the maj0r questions have been addressed, the structure of the solution is defined, and the prototype is running, Added effort, while addressing fit, finish, and documentation, does not produce much incremental value. Eventually, efforts to perfect the product can become counterproductive, breaking working features or decreasing the style and elegance of the solution.
I always have a desire to do my best, to get things right. But, sometimes, it paralyzes my ability to start at all.
I’ve had an assignment on my desk for a month to estimate the value of a new business concept. Normally, as with an experimental design, I can draw on prior experience to formulate a hypothesis, identify an suitable control, write a protocol, and calculate the power and study size. Alternatively, faced with a problem of organizing a project, I get a clear idea of the objectives, resources, constraints, and sleep on it. Intuition will bubble up an effective solution within a day or so.
But in this case, the “right answer” or even how to get a working process, is elusive. Day be day, I have alternative factors to consider,different ways of structuring the deal, new information arriving. The solution just won’t gel.
I can’t “get it right” in my mind, so I don’t take any steps (effort) into the unknown. The tension between getting it right and getting it done is actually immobilizing. I don’t know what the solution is: take a stab at it and learn from mistakes, to give it a period of concentrated though, to look for help and a new perspective. What’s your strategy?
On the lighter side, the evidence for “Asshole Boss of the Year” in another essay is pretty compelling…