Why Speed Beats Perfection Every Time


Speed kills is a phrase frequently used in sports. The faster team will usually beat the slower one. The same is true of business. Faster teams and businesses:

  • start winning sooner
  • have more to invest
  • often increase their speed with increased spending,
  • which in turn begets more winning.
  • It’s a virtuous loop.

Here are three ways to increase speed and accelerate results within your organization.

The goal of zero defects is counterproductive because it is unachievable. It is contentious for the simple reason that since the goal is impossible to attain, this Quixotic quest needlessly delays projects which in turn delays business growth. I don’t believe zero defects trumps speed and time to market when it comes to business growth and success.

Since the goal of zero defects cannot be attained, it creates negative tension. A dysfunctional disillusionment is created because the team knows they cannot achieve perfection, and the tension of an uncertain goal causes work to slow as appropriate targets are debated. These delays in deciding if the design is “good enough” equate to lost revenue that can never be recovered.

Example: A project in which I participated had “time-to-market” as its number one goal and the project was planned to launch within 6 months–a record for this firm. The team was energized to attain the primary goal–then corporate inertia set in. First, the team met for the four weeks to get aligned on goals and targets–this phase could have been accomplished in 4 days. Second, we visited prospective partners and at the end of the week-long trip, we made a recommendation. Six weeks later the “formalized” recommendation was provided to corporate leaders who took two to three additional weeks to decide. Three months of our planned six-month project expended with no design work started.

The Second reason is demand for perfect information. It is impossible to move quickly if all decisions must be based on complete data, with all risks mitigated to zero before you begin. The key trait of all high-performing groups I’ve been associated with is their ability to foresee problems and avoid them, combined with a confidence that they CAN and WILL recover when the unexpected befalls their project. This confidence, bordering on arrogance, is rooted in their experience base, their camaraderie, and their challenging each other to achieve the team goals. Their gauge is not “perfection,” but “success.”

Ironically, the requirement for perfection is most evident in failing companies who have become so fearful and risk-averse that turnaround is unlikely.

Example: A product design project had “hit the launch date” as its primary goal. All other goals, save safety & reliability, were secondary. The team was very small, extremely underfunded, and, despite the product’s importance to the top and bottom lines, had little support from corporate leaders.

The project achieved it launch dates to the day. This happened because the core of the close-knit team knew the importance of their project, challenged one another to “do better,” and celebrated successes. Sadly, production was halted two months later because two employees who would not buy-in to the core goal, neglected their responsibilities, and did not find quality and regulatory compliance issues. Ironically, both employees worked in the quality assurance department. 

Thirdly, corporate beliefs drive performance. Employees react and respond to the environment around them. If the managers and leaders are vocally supportive, set attainable goals, and provide the means for success, then skilled professionals will rise to the occasion. If leaders do not, then their skilled professionals will perform outstandingly well, for the competition. Being organized for success means more than a nice -looking organizational chart–it means the official and unofficial leaders of the firm are avatars for the company’s mission and values. They talk the walk as well as walk the talk.

Suggestions for success:

  • Evaluate the expertise of your experts based on how often they are right, wrong, and successful. Tangible business success is what you are looking for–right and wrong are moral or, more likely, ego issues.
  • Ascertain what is the worst that can happen and what probably will happen. Knowing this allows you to invest to prevent the worst and to be aware of potential potholes along the way.
  • Customers do not expect, nor appreciate perfection. They expect performance that is commensurate with your brand.
  • Make time-to-market, or speed, a measurable metric for individual success. “Responsiveness” is neither meaningful nor measurable–it is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Push decisions to the front lines once your people are close to being ready. Make them accountable AND reward them for success.

I’ve found the root of poor performance within organizations to be the fear of failure which is masked by their perfectionism. The most effective path to business growth is to make your decisions at the 80%-point and trust yourself and your people to make the appropriate adjustments along the way. If you wait for 100% to move, you’ll end up solving last week’s problems and not tomorrow’s.

©2018 by Doug Ringer. All Rights Reserved.

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