How Do We Avoid Perfectionism and Still Manage Quality? – DBR 019

How Do We Avoid Perfectionism and still Manage Quality?
I did an episode on perfectionism recently. I argued that it is wasteful and thus should be eliminated. But, in some cases, it seems to be our only way to control quality. That is, our only quality target is perfection. If we eliminate it as a goal, then are we simply left with accepting sloppy work from our Knowledge workers?
In this episode, I’ll talk about some of the challenges of quality in knowledge work. We should arrive at some actionable ideas of how to manage quality in knowledge work. Can we have quality targets as knowledge workers?
And so we, we definitely want to avoid perfectionism. And we also want to support timeboxing, we want to support the idea that we can say, this should take me four hours, and then schedule four hours, and then get the work done in four hours. versus some perfectionistic approach where we work on it, work on it, and continue to work on and work on it until we run out of time. And then we declare it done. And that’s not a thoughtful way to proceed. And definitely not managing quality.
Our productivity demands that we manage quality. And we need to manage quality because we need to manage cost. Otherwise, we go out of business. But how?
How to define quality in Knowledge work
  • Only you, as the knowledge worker, can know what you are trying to say or deliver
  • Example: delivering truth when it’s bad news
What is quality?
  • An outcome
  • Quality is like school exams (at least some of the time)
    • If we have an objective external standard
  • Where does production quality fit in?
    • ‘production quality’ above a certain threshold is not a measure of quality
    • Unless it is. Entertainment seems to have this property.
  • Kinds of flaws in knowledge work (expand here)
Non-exhaustive categories of knowledge work and the associated deliverables
  • Factual Knowledge – what are the facts, what do we know? E.g. diagnosis
  • Process Knowledge – next action that should be taken, E.g. treatment regiments and delivery
  • Understanding Knowledge – what is our strategy, changes to standard procedure e.g. when treatment doesn’t work
  • Knowledge Creation – new knowledge/processes/workflows – Insight e.g. new treatments
  • Problem solving – practical application of kinds of knowledge, experiments to try, “this should work” e.g. confounding symptoms
Defining quality per type of Knowledge Work
  • In KW, we don’t have an objective external standard – usually one-off work products
  • Value in use
  • KWs produce results that are necessarily incomplete and probably incorrect in one or more details
  • Factual Knowledge – high quality = correct (“true”, “accurate”) to the appropriate level of detail
    • The customer ‘doesn’t like it’ does not count against quality
  • Process knowledge – high quality = ‘doability’/ease of use/regulatory compliance
    • Again, ‘doesn’t like it’ doesn’t count
  • Understanding knowledge – high quality = reasonability, experience, convincing, case study
  • Knowledge creation – high quality = science
  • Problem Solving – high quality = results (vs. cost)
  • In these areas, production quality has a lower bound of comprehensibility, but improving it beyond that is probably a waste
Thinking in Bets – “resulting”
  • If our results have flaws, then our work was bad work?
  • What is ‘resulting’ and why is it bad
  • Redefine what a ‘good’ decision is
    • The key is that the problem of resulting divorces our outcomes from the quality of our effort
  • Why is resulting bad – it causes us to doubt, to change good processes for bad ones
  • Avoid resulting in decision making – follow the decision process
  • How to avoid resulting in Knowledge Work results – how do we know we’ve done good work
  • Athletes and results (three point shooting)
  • Knowledge work results have 1) hidden information (e.g. user needs, uncertainty about facts), and 2) risk
  • So, knowledge workers have done good work when we’ve followed our process
Knowledge workers have to avoid ‘resulting’
  • Helps avoid the perfection trap (overinvesting in quality)
  • Avoiding resulting in our work
  • It leads to perfectionism, which is wasteful
  • Without other standards, we default to production quality, which is probably wasteful
  • Avoid making our delivery processes weak (no ‘change resistance’ or consistency)
  • Avoid resulting’s sapping of our confidence
What to do about quality?
  • As knowledge workers, we need to get comfortable with ‘best effort’
  • Develop a process to adopt changes to our processes, don’t change our work processes at the drop of a hat
  • Scrum/Agile project management can help, but the user has to be highly involved
  • Use lots of MVPs
What else to do
  • Develop confidence
  • Focused work for our target amount of time is ‘good’ work
  • An experiment is good to the degree that it produces usable data
    • Not to the degree that it supports a specific hypothesis
    • So do good experiments
  • Apply this to MVPs