You may have heard people talk about the 80/20 rule:
Get things 80% of the way there, then consider it done.
Being a perfectionist, I’ve always had a personal issue with the 80/20 mentality. After all, why would you only want to give 80% of yourself to a project and not 100% — or even 110%? In medicine, you wouldn’t want your doctor or surgeon to perform at 80% of their potential, so why are we okay with it in business?
Over the years, I’ve started to come around to the idea of 80/20, and here’s why.
The one thing we strive for in business is positive results. Getting things done. These results, however, also have to be results worth reporting, so we often spend much longer than we need trying to yield perfect results. Perfection, though, is what keeps many projects from being completed. As the old saying goes, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”
As a team leader, it’s usually my job to check items off the list, approving final versions of projects as they are completed. It’s easy to see small things that could be tweaked or alternative methods to explore, but in the end, it’s sometimes most important to simply complete the project and move on to the next one. Completing projects is a rewarding feeling, and some team members need this kind of satisfaction in order to keep doing good work.
I also recognize the members of my team who use this philosophy to get things done. Finding the right balance between speed and perfection is tough, but those who can do it are trusted and reliable. Checking things off the list while keeping the end result good enough can easily get a team member labeled as a ‘doer.’ I often call on these ‘doers’ when I have a time-sensitive project, giving them more opportunities to be recognized for their work.
But 80/20 leaves too much room for error in certain situations, so I’ve recently employed the 98/2 rule. Each project still deserves the best effort possible, but once the project is almost perfect, that’s when it’s time to call it complete. Getting 98% of the way to perfection allows for outstanding quality of work, but the time spent on touching up that last 2% is saved for the next project. I’m able to check more items off the list, my team members enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, and overall, we see positive results and a moving checklist. I tell my team members that once they reach that 98% mark, it’s time to “push the button.”
On a recent website project, I decided to remove a small piece of functionality that did not have an immediate impact on the business (it added cosmetic enhancements) to get the new product out the door. Sometimes that last 2% is the most difficult to let go. Our perfectionist sides get the better of us, and it becomes easy to focus on small details. Sometimes we just have to let that side of us step aside momentarily for the greater good of the project and the team. In the end, I’m happy that I decided to remove that piece of functionality from the project. It allowed us to move along to meaningful things, and we finished everything needed by the deadline.
It really is about getting the work done and being proud of that work. Do a great job on each project, and don’t be afraid to then just “push the button.”