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Redefining “It’s Good Enough”

Person jumping a hurdle, shown backlit

by Doug Boebinger, MS, PMP®

“Oh, it’s good enough” is often heard and associated with doing the absolutely minimum necessary, typically less than what is required, to get by. So, “It’s good enough” is associated with inferior work or getting work half done and declaring “success.”

But, then, there is the opposite problem. Having two engineering degrees, I’m allowed to say this: left to themselves, engineers (and any technical person) will try to make a circle more round. They will continue to design, program, tweak, adjust, enhance, refine, and update until eternity passes away. These people far exceed the defined requirements and tend to over-achieve. They do it with good intentions. They want to produce the best “product” possible. The trouble is, they don’t know when to stop, and projects do not have an infinite amount of time, resources, and money to allow this to happen.

We need to redefine “it’s good enough” to mean doing everything that is required; not one thing more but not one thing less.

I like analogies. When I was in high school, I tried out for the track team. I tried out for hurdles. The coach told me that the object is to just clear the hurdle. You are not allowed to run through it or you will be disqualified. You have to jump over it. But you don’t want to jump too high over it because that is a waste of energy. So, he said you are to jump over it but just clear the hurdle. The hurdle should wobble and you will probably have scratches and scrapes on your knees. Once I learned this lesson, I quit track; too much running. (Yeah, I know. Ya’ think I would have known that going in.)

I’ve actually seen a case where doing more on a project than was asked has backfired. The thought was that the customer would be “surprised and delighted” by the additional features and enhancements. What actually occurred was the clients were frustrated that the results were not what had been asked for, and they asked how much time and money could have been saved if the team had stuck to the original scope.

You may think high jumpers are supposed to jump as high as possible. No. Even then, the object is to just clear the bar. Jumping higher is a waste of energy. You don’t get bonus points for jumping six inches higher than the bar; you just have less energy for the next jump when they raise the bar higher.

We need to have the same concept in our work, not just on our projects. Do all that is required (clear the hurdle) but nothing more (don’t jump too high). It’s good enough.

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