Search of the "Good-Enough" Leader
By Lonnie Pacelli
recent project my company was working with a frozen seafood
manufacturer to help them bring a specialty frozen seafood product to
market. A huge component of getting this project done was the
packaging; it had to be eye-popping and appealing while protecting the
frozen seafood pieces inside. After a number of design sessions
with the packaging manufacturer, we received the finished packaging.
What was initially exuberance during the design session turned into
disappointment when we saw the finished product. Some of the
graphics were a bit blurry, a re-sealable zipper wasn't included, and a clear window to view the contents inside was
missing. Our emotions went from disappointment to anger as the
manufacturer told us it would be a number of weeks before a new
delivery of the packaging could be done. If we took this route,
a key delivery to a very important customer of ours wouldn't be met. What a pickle.
thought through our dilemma, we started thinking about what was
"good-enough." While some of the problems with the
packaging were irritating, they were largely cosmetic and didn't impact the quality or taste of the product. We ultimately
decided that we could still use the packaging by making one change
which we were able to implement in-house. Through this process,
we found that we had to mentally adjust our expectations from
"perfection" to "good-enough" in order to meet our
commitments to our customers and get the product out in time.
Not the optimal choice, but certainly a workable one.
leaders, we are constantly faced with deciding which tasks to do and
how to apply resources to those tasks. There are rare occasions
where stars align and we are able to get everything done exactly the
way we want it with the resources given to us. Most of the time,
though, we have to decide not only what to do but what not
to do. This is where the good-enough leader comes in.
Good-enough leaders are able to get more done with the resources given
to them because they know that there comes a point where the
incremental effort (or what I like to refer to as "polishing the
apple") just isn't worth the expense required to achieve the effort. Good-enough
leaders are able to define clearly what good-enough means for any task
being worked on and are able to get the team to self-check on
achieving good-enough. Simply put, good-enough leaders get more
done because they know not only when to start,
but when to stop.
good-enough mindset means doing the following:
Establish good-enough guidelines
taking on a project or task, take time to discuss with the team
where the good-enough line lives. As example, if the goal is
to prepare a presentation for management, it may be acceptable to
have different fonts on different slides but it is not acceptable
for data to be incorrect or for the presentation to have spelling
errors. Establishing clear guidelines with the team (and
yourself) helps to reduce rework and reduces the likelihood of
misunderstandings on what good-enough means as it relates to your
specific project or task.
Separate the "must-haves" from the
"nice-to-haves": For good-enough to work, it's super important to get a clear understanding of what needs are
absolutely necessary to deliver your end product and to separate
the "must-haves" from the "nice-to-haves."
As you are assessing each need, ask, "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.
Align expectations with your customers or
stakeholders: As you are defining your must -haves, include
your customer or stakeholders in the process to ensure you aren't missing a must-have need or mis-categorizing a nice-to-have as a
must-have. Key to this is allowing the customer to see the
benefit of being good-enough. The benefit could be a
reduced cost on a contract, taking on an extra project, or
potentially implementing a couple of the highest priority
Adopt a "good-enough" mantra:
Working to good-enough doesn't stop at needs definition. In our day-to-day work we all,
as leaders, are faced with decisions on where to apply resources,
what things to do, and what things to not do. When you adopt
and maintain a good-enough mantra with your team, the team will
start thinking in good-enough terms and learn how to draw the
good-enough line without your coaching and prodding.
Encourage others to cry foul when a team member
starts polishing the apple: Adopting a good-enough mantra is
a great first step; using the mantra day-in and day-out is the
next step. It is easy for a team member to become obsessed
with a project or task and to want to spend a lot of time making
something perfect. When you spot someone spending time on a
task which appears to be beyond good-enough, ask "is this
good-enough?" Also, be open to a team member
challenging you with the good-enough question. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Don't accept "good-enough" as an excuse for substandard
quality: being good-enough means you understand what must be
done and you work to the good-enough line. It isn't an up-front excuse for shoddy workmanship or unacceptable
quality. As example, a developer cannot use a
"good-enough" mantra as an excuse for not testing a
program he or she has written. Work should still be
performed to whatever professional specifications are applicable
to your organization.
good-enough leader. You'll get more done because your team will make better choices on where
to spend time and will consciously avoid polishing the apple.
Think good-enough; it works.
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