Balancing Good Enough and Perfect
19 September, 2021
People have been torn by the dilemma of balancing good enough and perfect since the beginning of time. And to no surprise, product management is not exempt from it. I am sure that every product manager deliberates daily about making the tradeoffs between getting a product out the door fast and assessing how it will impact its quality and adoption.
Sticking to good enough will allow product managers to get a product out of a door quickly, test it with a potential target market, and gauge if it brings sufficient ROI. As expected, quality comes as the first collateral. Good enough is not good enough for certain types of markets, which will translate into lower adoption. On the other hand, perfection will entail a longer time to market, and sometimes that longer time will mean being too late.
My job as a product leader is to find that subtle balance between the two approaches.
For starters, I want to emphasize that every product -- and in this case, my product portfolio -- with its unique context, influences how one should approach the good enough-perfect dilemma. I am aware that my approach will not be the best approach for others since people tend to look at this problem from different angles. In my opinion, defining well a market segment or who the users would be is critical in deciding which route one should take. Understanding user needs, especially when one has to make compromises, is fundamental. I am a big believer that one should never compromise with user needs but should compromise anywhere else.
The next step I would take would be to differentiate between a user and a buyer. My favorite analogy is one of the video games. Kids are playing video games, but it is parents who are buying them. You need to cater to both sides of the customers to be successful. If you don’t cater to parents, they would never buy your product. If you don’t cater to kids, they would never use the product. There has to be a bit of everything for buyers and users. Pleasing both means making tradeoffs and assessing how much good enough will be good for any of the two.
Then, I would try to understand how my product could generate value for end customers. I would never compromise on things that would genuinely generate value for customers. As Steve Jobs compellingly explained, one should not compromise on the vision but on the path to the vision. I won’t mind taking a detour here and there if I know where I am heading. However, this is where the dilemma of good enough vs. perfect takes its most crafty form: it should apply only to execution, not to the end state.
In the end, I would like to add a more inward perspective. Oftentimes, in their quest for perfection, PMs tend to overprescribe requirements to engineering. They would stifle innovation by dictating how things should look, leaving no leeway for engineers to fill it in with innovation. The end result would frequently be a polar opposite to the original intention: without an opportunity to innovate, engineers would not be motivated and would rush to deliver good enough in the best case.
- Balance is a journey. You will not get it right from the start. Be prepared to get it wrong many times. The point is that when you get it wrong, you will be able to fix it and fix it quickly. For example, if you have a product that you think is good enough, but as it turns out, has minimal adoption, refresh it, reiterate it and get it out the door quickly. Waiting too long will create a negative perception that alone will be hard to battle. On the other hand, you will sometimes have to strive for perfection, not for the sake of it but because a market segment you are targeting expects nothing less. Each product will require a different approach, so be open-minded and patient, and knowing how to strike a balance will come by itself.
- Whichever route you choose to take, don’t create long-term damage for a short-term gain. Whenever you encounter the good enough-perfect dilemma, think about tomorrow and how your decision will influence the future of the product.
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