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How to improve time management: It’s Worth Doing Poorly … At First

How to improve time management:
It’s Worth Doing Poorly … At First

- by Bryan Emmerson -

High standards are not only a wonderful thing but are necessary for long-term success in business. But like most things, a strength taken to extremes can be a weakness.  While attention to detail can be a tremendous trait, perfectionism can be sometimes as much a curse as it is a blessing.

One day I was in the office of one of my managers inquiring as to the status of a project that one of his supervisors was working on that was behind schedule. As he was giving me the update, he mentioned that the project would take another three weeks, tripling the original time estimate of two weeks. When I inquired as to the reason for the delay, he said that the supervisor had the project mostly completed but wanted to get it “just right”.

If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I prefer to use questions whenever possible. Sometimes I like to use statements, but only if they will “jolt” the listener to make him/her think.  My response was, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly”. After pausing for several seconds he said, “This sounds strange coming from you as you are always talking about excellence.” I responded, “When it comes to final outcomes that is true; excellence is the standard.  But not so with process changes as they are the means to the end. Let’s look at two different scenarios. Scenario number one is when a project takes six weeks because the project manager tries to imagine every conceivable issue and gets it 90% right. The reason he can only achieve 90% is because it hasn’t been tested in ‘the real world’.  The military has an expression: no strategy can survive contact with the enemy. The seventh week is then spent getting the process to a workable 95%.

“Scenario number two has the project manager rolling out the new change in two weeks and is only 70% of where it needs to be. He’ll take the next week tweaking the process to get it to the same 95% effectiveness (under both scenarios, the last 5% might take months).  Which scenario do you think is better?”

He responded, “Well I suppose the second one would be better since we would be getting the benefit of a non-optimized improvement for one week and the optimized process an additional three weeks sooner as compared to the first scenario.  Also, the supervisor would be spending less overall time on the project and able to move on to something else that would be a better use this time.”

I told him that he was correct in this instance, but as with most things there are exceptions. The idea of doing something poorly at first only applies to workflow processes and only if it can be done without costing money. An example where this approach would not work is when it comes to computer programming. A company can spend a lot of money and time if computer changes aren’t well thought out and documented.  I have seen cases where the original programming needed to be scrapped completely because it didn’t take into account requirements that only came out after significant work had been completed.

Another big exception to “doing it poorly” is in the area of human resources. As Stephen Covey says in The Speed of Trust, “The source of all (or almost all) human conflict is due to unrealized expectations”.  If you’re going to make changes to somebody’s position or compensation you need to get it right the first time.  These kind of changes should be performed in the context of a larger HR plan. In family businesses the stakes are even higher as wrong moves with family members can have devastating effects to the business owner’s most important relationships.  

Used correctly, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly … at first” is a time management mindset that can help both the individual and the organization optimize effort.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

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