Six weeks down (and yes, I skipped week five). Today is the forty-third day of lockdown - a month and a half with extremely limited human contact. At this point I have come to believe that people are actually faces in boxes who come with a mute button.
Isolation aside, I want to write something about finishing things, prompted by this cartoon from The Oatmeal. When is something good enough? We are under a lot of pressure at the moment, which means whatever needs doing, needs doing quickly. Whether it's writing code, or writing papers I've seen (and experienced myself) paralysis around completion scuppering good work time and again in my career and this seems more prevalent the more senior I become.
Perfect is the enemy of good, as the saying goes (both Voltaire and Confucius had things to say on this). Trying to make something perfect can stop it being put out. Just as with a software project (or indeed any project), if it hasn’t been released it doesn’t have value*. Agile preaches to release early to start gathering feedback and realising value and it seems to me that this should hold true for written documentation, writing briefs, and so on.
I can think of a few reasons why this doesn't work in the same way. A digital project is reaching potentially thousands of people, and each will have a different experience. A written paper will be reaching a handful of people. It's unlikely these people will re-read your paper after some corrections, so iteration doesn't really work in this context. Each "transaction" has a greater value, and that value is to you personally rather than to the company and nobody wants to risk looking like a fool.
This line of thinking goes to an interesting place. Why does writing something take time? Because it’s frightening. Why? Because it is personal, and makes us vulnerable. However, speaking for myself, I'd rather receive information earlier and less polished. My threshold for "good enough" is lower than those who report to me. I suspect that is true for those I report to as well.
As I turn this over in my mind, I find it keeps coming back to the same point - corporate culture and safety. I hope I create an environment where people feel ok to make themselves vulnerable. Regardless of my success (or otherwise) in this, I know plenty of people at different levels who do not. It seems to me that accidentally creating a culture of fear is detrimental both oneself and others for very practical reasons, as well as it being a crappy thing to do.
Muse over. In the meantime, the route around this is to learn to write and have confidence in one's ability to string words together. It's an important skill and why I write this blog.
* Gross oversimplification, of course, ignoring learning and so on, but even an investigation has a "done" state which is analogous here
This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.