Project perfection versus project practicality: How to strike the right balance

by Paul Kesler

“Perfection is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.” – Brene Brown

Project perfection

Let’s face it; we all want to be perfectionists, right? In our homes, in our offices, at our kids’ little league games we strive for perfection. Many project managers think perfection is being able to check every box on a checklist or using every template on every project. How many times have you as project manager begun a new project with the grand dreams of tools and templates – a.k.a. project perfection – that everyone can and should be using? You find that this especially happens soon after you start a new job; somewhere between the time you first discover where the bathroom is and when you find out the nickname that all of your new colleagues have assigned to you. You begin your project planning thinking about which team members you plan to engage with and which template or document you plan to ask them to complete.  

A perfectionist might start a new project thinking of ways to make things easy for the team while meeting the desired business results without creating a lot of unnecessary work. However, then that thought passes and the perfectionist in you starts thinking about that second cup of coffee and about all your neat, new fancy templates and whom you plan to assign them to.

In today’s working world other forms of perfectionism come in the visions of that perfect project plan, all tasks neatly arranged, estimates defined and owners assigned. Sometimes, we end up spending hours and hours, refining and tweaking but to what end? Is someone really going to review this and am I really adding value by spending all this time making it perfect?

Project practicality

If you ever wander into project perfection, I suspect you come back to project practicality at some point either by your own accord or by the reactions that you receive from your boss or project team members. Project practicality is where you use only what is viewed as least needed to meet your goals. I have found my success in leading projects to be found at the intersection of project perfection and project practicality. What I mean by this is that every business from the largest corporations to the smallest nonprofits very unique, in their people, their processes, and their underlying technology.  

Therefore I have come to the conclusion that as a project leader you must simply step away from all the prescribed tools and templates on occasion and make your own assessment of the true value these artifacts bring to helping you deliver business results. Take some time to really talk to and work with your team to find the right fit, the project management tools and templates that are needed to deliver your project successfully, no more, no less. This same principle should be followed in your planning process when identifying required tasks or new activities, resources, or budget estimates. Some businesses even have the philosophy of 80% is good enough for execution, so go!

Pushing forward…..

Upon reflection, I think most people will realize that you must strike a balance between perfectionism and practicality. Thinking that project delivery only at one end or another of the spectrum will not work for any organization in the long term is not practical. Therefore I propose that the word of today should be to find the ‘right fit’ for your project templates. Following this principle will make your life and your team members less stressful, and I believe happier in the end. Your team will come to realize that you are simply asking them for the work that creates the most value and return for the business.

Now go forth and lead on!


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