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Are We Striving For Perfection?

Or are we just maintaining the status quo in our work?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)

I don't know about you but I love it when things go smoothly at work. I enjoy watching a project or assignment execute on-time, within budget and according to specifications. It's a real high. I don't care what the task is, it is always a pleasure watching someone who knows what they are doing and performs it flawlessly. The scope of the project doesn't really matter. It can be complex or mundane, large or small; the fact that it is performed professionally and without a hitch is important to me. I was in awe when I watched Apollo 11 land on the moon and return safely to Earth in 1969. It is the same feeling I have watching a craftsman who goes about his/her work diligently and produces quality work products.

I'm not sure why I feel this way. Maybe it is because we have been conditioned to accept problems as a natural part of the status quo, that perfection is impossible to attain, and when something is executed flawlessly, it must be by accident, not by design. As someone who has both practiced and taught Project Management over the years, I have a deep appreciation for the many variables involved in even the smallest of projects. It is a human management function involving communications, interpersonal relations, and discipline. Managing complexity is also an inherent part of the job. To do so requires considerable preparation, attention to detail, and follow-up. The big difference though is to make sure people care about their work.

In today's business environment there seems to be an inclination to avoid planning and rush to implementation instead. This is particularly true in the Information Technology industry. This inevitably ends in a firefighting mode of operation whereby we are constantly correcting mistakes due to shoddy workmanship. Yet, when asked why we avoid planning, you often hear people lament, "We haven't got time to do things right." Translation: "We have plenty of time to do things wrong." If the up-front planning is done properly, the actual development/implementation will be easy as there is little guess work. Yet, planning is often the first thing sacrificed in a project. I'm not sure why. I suppose it is because it requires work.

People who tend to avoid doing their homework are those who are seeking the path of least resistance. Typically, they are not disciplined workers primarily because they do not like to sweat. Instead of following the steps in a specific order, e.g., 1-2-3-4, such people tend to circumvent steps or jump around, e.g., 1-3-4, 3-4-1-2. The results are thereby predictable: overpriced and under-worked products that do not satisfy requirements. Such people are often characterized as "jumping the gun," "leaping before they look," or "flying by the seat of their pants." These same people have little regard for what they are producing or the institution they work for.

Excellence in any field of endeavor requires people willing to go above and beyond the call of duty; it requires them to care about what they are doing and seek perfection on their own. Financial remuneration and other perks is one obvious way to encourage such an attitude, but I consider this a bounty hunter approach which is only useful on a short term basis, not long-term. Pride in workmanship is better but this requires employees to believe their work has meaning or importance. Communicating to workers their effort is vital to remaining competitive or for the purposes of corporate survival is good but puts people in a defensive mode of operation. However, if they believe their work is special from a strategic perspective, they tend to act with more determination and an esprit de corps.

Perhaps the ultimate is to challenge the skills and ability of the workers to deliver the work products themselves. In other words, cause the workers to do it on their own, that it is a test of their character. You cannot do this by micromanaging people, but by allowing them some freedom to make their own decisions in the course of the project. Under such a scenario, I have seen workers conquer complicated and difficult projects simply because it pleased them to do so, nothing more. And those are projects that I particularly enjoy watching.

Just remember, it’s Ready, Aim, Fire; any other sequence is counterproductive.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Valerie Crowe October 09, 2012 at 01:47 PM
I so agree! A good way to recognise the 'cowboys', apart from everything falling to bits within a year, is that they rarely have the right tools for the job. Making do is their mantra - or in my case - what can one expect for this price! I used to go about saying - one gets what one pays for - but even that seems to be falling by the wayside these days. If one has the very good luck to find a craftsman extraordinaire, never let them go. Or as the song says...'Catch a busy craftsman, put him in your pocket, never let him get away! For work will come and tap you on the shoulder, one sunny day etc etc.
Tim Bryce October 09, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Thank you Valerie. If you like that, here is another article I wrote on Craftsmanship: http://timbryce.blogspot.com/2010/05/craftsmanship-meaning-of-life.html

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