I realize that living an error-free life, running an error-free project, or conducting an error-free business or consulting practice is just not in the cards. Perfection is nice to strive for, but it is extremely hard to achieve. Over the 135 years of Major League Baseball history, and well over 300,000 games played, there have been only 23 official perfect games. That means that when a pitcher in the major leagues takes the mound - all other things being equal (ability, fielding skills of teammates, etc.) - there is less than a 0.008% chance of him throwing a perfect game. And that means if you are in attendance, there is less than a .016% chance of you witnessing a perfect game from either team. There have been spans of as many as 33 years between perfect games. Using the numbers above, on average, there is only one thrown about every 6 years.
Back to business and project management.
Perfection…the perfect project…it just doesn’t happen. But we want to strive for that, right? But in reality, we often can’t remember to always send attachments with our emails when we say, “See attached,” so it is understandable how hard it is to do things perfectly over the course of the long project. I think I could personally make a small fortune by creating an app that would pop up and say, “Are you sure?” after you hit the send key giving you one more time to proof that important email.
We would like to think that we would never deliver anything less than 100% perfect to the client. Every design document and project plan is perfect every time with all the “I’s” dotted and all the “T’s” crossed. No misspellings. No left out words. No “it’s” when it should be “its.” No “they’re” when it should be “their.” No web page content misspelled or inaccurate or with dead or incorrect links. But we see them all the time…and we think, “I would never do that!” Right… Is this all starting to sound too familiar? Is it starting to hurt a bit? Are you starting to squirm because it’s happened to you?
There are two big reasons why I am passionate about this topic…
I believe in getting it right the first time around
I truly believe that delivering errorless output is something that should be near and dear to the heart of the project manager and everyone on the project team. We should want to give our best to the client and keep them expecting that best throughout the engagement by having them repeatedly see high quality output.
I have been through it before – big time
Oh boy…it really happened to me. Wrapped up in moving forward on a project that we were experiencing issues on, I allowed myself to deliver a functional design document to the client without not only proofing it myself but not having my business analyst verify it was perfect. My business analyst said it looked great, but in reality it didn’t and I am pretty sure he never really reviewed it. What makes it worse is that I actually had two BAs on the project and we still delivered bad output. And to make it even far worse – we delivered the same error-prone deliverable two times and it had different errors in both versions. Talk about going from a very happy and confident client to a very concerned and dissatisfied client in the course of about a week. All because we got sloppy…and my management of the project got sloppy. I talk a lot about lessons learned but I was definitely not practicing what I preach.
What I learned the hard way is that what seems like no big deal to me might be a very big deal to the client. When the client sees easily spotted errors in a deliverable document that they are paying for, I guarantee you that they will immediately wonder what other work has been or will be of poor quality. And rightly so. Needless to say, I took a beating from my client for those first two deliveries of the document – and I should have. The whole team took a beating but it was me who was and had to be accountable for it as the project manager.
From that point on, every deliverable in document form received two peer reviews for everything….content, spelling, formatting, appearance. Everything you can imagine. I’m a firm believer – especially now – that peer reviews are worth every penny and the project manager must ensure that his team members aren’t ‘going through the motions’ on the reviews by participating in the review itself and giving the document his own personal signoff. The client deserves to see quality output that isn’t full of easily fixable errors. And they have every right to lose confidence in a delivery team that can’t get the content right in a paid deliverable document.
We can’t always be perfect. We may never be perfect. But it is our seeking of perfection that singles out the ones who really care from the ones who may be just phoning it in. And the client sees this. They understand it from your reaction to the problem, from your timeliness in correcting any deficiencies, and from your ability to make sure that it is right the second time around. Take perfection to heart. You may not always reach it – but it will always be evident in how you run your projects that perfection is your intent and sometimes that is enough to the clients. And they are the ones who count the most.