As one of those perfectionist types who tends to get mired down in the details and delays starting things or finishing things sometimes unless I feel like I can produce perfection, I like deadlines!  They help me track my progress.  They keep my internal critic in check.  They help me break down projects into smaller more achievable sections.  But twice in the past few days I’ve questioned the value of absolutely sticking to a deadline even if you know what you are producing is far from finished.

I listened patiently Sunday morning as my mom compared the oil spill to what she used to see in software development.  “This is the same exact thing I hated about software development!  We had to meet deadlines and so we rushed to complete something and I couldn’t stand giving customers a product that I knew had flaws.”  It reminded me of an article I read recently about perfectionism: 

“Rumor has it that one of Microsoft’s philosophies is that if a project is 80% complete, it’s ready to launch. Any last-minute problems will be worked out afterward. Whether or not Microsoft employees really do adhere to it, the idea has merit. If you’ve designed something innovative, why risk having the specs leaked while you’re tweaking it and letting your competitors beat you to the punch? Nothing will ever be perfect, so knowing when a product is good to go takes vision, expertise and courage.”

I suppose for small-scale projects this might be a suitable perspective (I’m not sure… I’d feel safer going with 90% complete).  But for something larger, say like email OR AN OIL DRILLING RIG, I’m not so sure how I feel about the idea of “any last-minute problems will be worked out afterward.”  After what cost to your customers?

Then a co-worker brought up the notion of “technical debt” at our team meeting – technical debt being the consequences of hasty development and I couldn’t help but think what a nasty technical debt the world is paying just because BP was running late on a deadline and skimped over a few critical processes in the oil rig development because they didn’t want their “competitors to beat [them] to the punch??”   

It all just seemed like a metaphor for me.  Whereas I might tend to get caught not finishing something because I can’t achieve perfection (at least in my personal/creative life), there’s a whole other side of finishing something for the sake of finishing it without doing it right.  Maybe we need a happy medium or a better way of calculating our technical debt. 

Since life is essentially a chronology of one consecutive choice after another, decision making seems like another topic that really needs to be taught in schools with much more fervor.  Decision making, adapting to change, systemic thinking, self-awareness, balance … if we could all master those perhaps the road to peace would seem much more attainable. 

Games and simulations could certainly capture the essence of decision making!  I think adapting to change and systemic thinking would make for interesting games as well.  Hmmm now to think about self-awareness and balance …  

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