Put an end to perfection loop

Putting an end to Perfection Loop

I have spent most of my professional career on a computer so when I get a chance to do hands-on physical work I go with a lot of enthusiasm. My husband and I have flipped houses long before HGTV made it popular or the hundreds of online courses started teaching people to do it. We only flip a few houses every few years but, I enjoy working on every single one. I don’t have to think when I’m painting a wall or pulling up carpet. It’s relaxing. With that said, I don’t have any formal carpentry experience besides working with my husband on investment properties for over 18 years. Michael, on the other hand, has been building, designing, creating, hammering, hanging drywall and whatever else he does with the 1,000 tools he owns for 25+ years. I’m more of an annoyance than real help but, I show up to the job site with way too much energy anyway.

I refer to myself as his Helper regularly. He does not see me as a “helper”. He usually gives me what I call meaningless stupid baby jobs like sweeping or cleaning. Anyway, we were scraping off drywall mud from the 1980’s popular stomped ceiling, and while I was watching him work and recognized a trait I see in many leaders I work with…. the perfection loop. Here’s out the perfection loop plays out:

Norm Process

After scraping off the drywall mud, there’s a four-step process:

  1. Lightly re-mud
  2. Sand to smooth out
  3. Paint with primer
  4. Paint with ceiling paint

The perfection loop in ACTION

  1. Lightly mud
  2. Sand to smooth out
  3. Lightly mud
  4. Sand to smooth out
  5. Lightly mud
  6. Sand to smooth out
  7. Lightly mud
  8. Sand to smooth out
  9. Wife quits to check email and leaves husband to paint the ceiling alone

You get the idea. My husband looks for perfection before finally agreeing to paint but, then almost immediately will find some minor imperfection only to start the process over again.

So, how does this perfection loop play out in the workplace? Lets take a time-sensitive internal communication as an example: copywriter/content creator drafts communication > leader reviews it and makes tweaks>copywriter/content creator updates communication > leader reviews it and makes a few small tweaks>copywriter/content creator updates communication > leader reviews it and makes 1 small tweak>copywriter/content creator updates communication > leader reviews it and makes 1 small tweak>copywriter/content creator updates communication > leader reviews it > communication is now ready but, now it doesn’t matter it’s past the date because this process took 3 weeks.

Again, you get the idea. I can literally give you hundreds of ways the Perfection Loop plays out from software creation to website content creation to projects to training material to almost any work product. People want the first launch to be PERFECT so, they keep cycling around making small tweaks resulting in a delayed launch or worse, it doesn’t launch at all.

How do we exit the Perfection Loop?

The Perfection Loop

1. Recognize When You’re In It

A few months I was working with my team on our new Stratavize website and what started out as a 60-day project turned into 4 months. What happened? I got stuck in the Perfection Loop. I kept pushing for perfection instead of done. I kept making small minor tweaks, over and over again. I’m pretty sure I was driving everyone crazy. To make matters worse, I could rationalize and justify the obsessive updating and changing by convincing myself that it’s what I would do for a client; work to make sure it’s done right. Then one Friday afternoon, I looked at my project plan and realized it was 2 months overdue. I was in the Perfection Loop. Stop the ride – it’s time to get off.

2. Agree Upfront To The Number of Changes

The communication example is one from my corporate days but, it plays every day in organizations across the country. The team must agree to how many change requests are appropriate before it launches. Discuss what’s the right number of changes before you start and adjust if needed but, be mindful of the perfection loop. I worked for a guy named Denis, what seems like a 100 years ago. I was a young consultant supporting his branches spread out through the Northeast. There’s something he would say that stuck with me; “When it’s 80% right – roll it, Lauralee. We cannot wait for 100% because we will never get there.” This was my first experience of recognizing the perfection loop but, Denis knew. He knew that if we kept trying to make it just perfect, we’ll never get there.

3. Plan a Phased Approach

Several years later that I worked for a woman named, Trish. We worked on sales software technology projects. Her motto was “We go in phases – we can always roll out phase 1 and then build on it from there.” When I combined these two bits of wisdom, from Denis and Trish, I realized as a working team, WE can decide to roll out almost anything phases. The idea of getting it 100% right at launch is required if you are building airplanes, spaceships, or conducting surgery. But – most of my clients and the work they do – they are not in the business of saving lives. 80% and phases are OK. Do phases work for the communication example? No. But, it’s a simpler version of Agile Methodology and it can work for many other projects. Agree to a phased approach at the beginning and take the pressure off yourself to make it perfect at the start.

4. Create an After Launch Review

The last step is, build in After Launch Review time. We sometimes call this post mortem review or What Worked and What Didn’t Review. The phased approach only works if you actually go forward with phase 2, 3 and so on. I was in a meeting recently where there was a joke that Phase 2 is Phase Never Gonna Happen. Don’t let the initiative die on the vine! Breath life into by conducting an after launch review and building out the next phases.

The perfection loop is a trap and it’s a place where good work goes to die. Don’t get stuck, get off the ride. Done is better than perfect. As for me and my handyman work – well, I’ve been fired by my husband 1000 times but, guess what I’m doing tomorrow? You got it! Working on an investment property where my mind will wander to warm water and sandy beaches while my husband reworks the tile grout over and over.

Stop the perfection loop today! Share this infographic with your team. (no email required šŸ™‚ )

I just love a great conversation, in person, over the phone or on social, so lets connect! Follow me on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

To learn more about me and Stratavize click here.

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