How I Learned “Done is Better Than Perfect”

“A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.”- George S. Patton

In my last post I mentioned the popular quote, “Done is Better Than Perfect!” And that it was one of the most important lesson I’ve learned in my career.  Unfortunately, I had to re-learn the lesson a few times before it really stuck and became a part of mindset…and training development workflow. I’ve tried over the last few years to help others learn this lesson but in many cases it’s a lesson best learned the hard way.

For me, the lesson was learned at my first full time job at a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Phoenix.  The factory was in startup mode and was in desperate need of training around several compliance courses required for the factory to be approve for operation.

My manager called me into his office.  He showed me a workbook on the topic of electostatic discharge. (For those of you that don’t know, ESD can be the death of electronic devices, costing tech companies hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars in non-functioning product.)  He asked me how long it would take to create a CBT version of this course. Remember, it wasn’t called eLearning back then. And we had to burn it onto a CD-ROM.

So, I spent the next 20 minutes explaining the ADDIE process, and all that will be required to meet with subject matter experts and workers and how we would need to also go through the Hannifin and Peck media selection process…oh yea, and the weeks of media development and coding time…and I went on and on and on.

He was very polite and then finally interrupted me and asked how long it would take.  After a lot more explaining I finally landed on “a month or two at best.”

Then he said, “what can you have done by next Friday.”

“WHAT?! That’s not possible.” And I started to explain why…then he stopped me again.  And with a very calm demeanor he asked, “if you HAD to have it done next Friday, what would that look like?

Being more than a little annoyed at this point, I spouted off what could be done by then. “Well…I could just recreate each of the pages out of this workbook as pages in Toolbook…TOTALLY static…no interactivity…well, okay maybe a short quiz at the end…”

“That sounds great. Let’s commit to next Friday on that.”

I was still single at the time and so after 4 long days and late nights I had the CBT ready to go on day 5.

It was not perfect…nowhere NEAR perfect in my mind…but it was DONE! And the business was gaining value from it.  The entire current employee base was compliant by the next Friday and the business could move on to the next phase.  Even after I left the company that CBT was still being used to train new hires on the dangers of electrostatic discharge.

It was a valuable lesson for me despite being constantly pulled towards perfection with every new project after that.

Have you learned this lesson? Did you fight it? I’d love to hear your stories.

P.S. Apparently Sheryl Sandberg has now made this phrase popular, but I don’t think she’s the first to say it. And no, I have not read her book.

UPDATE: A similar quote by Voltaire, “Perfect is the enemy of better”.