The importance of knowing when to prioritize speed over perfection

In business we are often taught that perfection is the goal; that every detail matters all the time, and that you need to check and re-check everything to be sure that the end product is ideally prepared, simple to read and beautifully packaged.

That is largely great advice. In today’s digital economy, once you release work into the world it is there to stay.

However, our economy’s digital transformation has also taught us that speed is a critical aspect of the way we work. Now, more than ever, we need to determine which tasks need to prioritize perfection and which can be slightly less than perfect if we are fast.

How do we balance these needs, especially when some projects require 20 percent of the time to deliver the final 5 percent of the value? One way is to be very intentional about which projects need to be perfect and which don’t. In academic terms, in which instances would delivering B+ work tomorrow be better than completing A work a week later?

Here are a few examples of some times when we, as leaders, can help our teams increase their output by being clearer about the amount of time that should be spent in the creative stage of the project versus adding the finishing touches.

■  First drafts — Many times the first draft of a project plan or client report can go in many directions once a manager or a larger team has reviewed it. For first drafts, focus primarily on the quality of content as opposed to investing in the appearance.

■  Projects with broad teams — The more teams involved, the more likely a project is going to move in a direction different than where it started. If there are multiple teams engaged, go broad and refine the details in a future phase.

■  Internal use only — If it is just for peers to review, substance trumps style.

■  Reacting to a customer problem — The final response to a client issue is critical and needs to be carefully scrutinized, but early in the process it is often more critical that all involved parties have the necessary information to make informed decisions. When reacting to a customer problem, get the information out first and openly request what additional information is needed. The sooner everyone is aware, the better the end resolution can be.

Low-quality work is never a good choice, regardless of how quickly it is delivered. Your professional career is dependent on showing that you can deliver quality work. It’s also dependent on delivering an extremely high quantity of work. Knowing when to prioritize each side of that equation can pay big dividends for you and your team.

Sam Falletta is CEO at Incept Corp.