Perfection is the enemy of good

How much time can be spent on a diagnosis?

How much effort should be put into creating a budget that you don’t know if it will be completed?

A few weeks ago, I had a telephone conversation with my mechanic like this:

“Listen. The car is leaking oil. There’s a puddle of oil in the garage”.

“Have you noticed if the steering is getting stiffer?”

“No. Not particularly.”

“OK, so you bring the car to me tomorrow morning around 8 o’clock and I’ll have it ready in a couple of hours. It’ll cost you about €90, including labor and oil refill.”


It’s amazing the ability to make a diagnosis.

Without seeing the car.

With a few pieces of information and a single question he has already been able to make a first diagnosis, create a budget and set the work plan.

On the other hand, I have a project for a customer who wants to change her current IT system to a new tool.

The new supplier is already clear about the cost of the new tool and the process of installation, configuration, and training.

However, they need to consider data migration from the current system to the new one.
A current system they are not familiar with.

It’s been nearly 2 months, fifty-four emails exchanged, half a dozen phone conversations and one Zoom meeting.

And with all this, to this day, they still have not been able to deliver a project assessment and a go-live date for the new system.


But it’s a downer “Wow”.

Why such abysmal differences?

My mechanic has not seen the car, but based on his knowledge and experience, he assumes what the possible diagnosis is and from there he organizes the rest.

He might be wrong. But there’s a good chance he’s got it right.

It has high reliability. Not 100%, but enough at this point.

And if, once he has the car in front of him, he discovers that the problem was not exactly what he had estimated, he will try to see if he can solve it in time and at the cost he had estimated.

And if there really is a significant deviation, he will explain it to me, and we will take the appropriate decision.

The important thing is that the cost of the first diagnosis, budgeting and organization of the work has been a telephone conversation of a couple of minutes.

With a high probability of success.

That conveys the feeling of a professional expert.

And that solves my problem.

However, the IT company seeks to give a closed budget and work plan.

100% reliable.

It has to be tight so as not to overdo it and risk losing the client.

But at the same time, they must make sure that they are not going to get their fingers caught in a process that requires more effort than expected or that cannot be done in the timeframe proposed to the client.

And this implies that they must dig deep into the current system to understand the potential problems that may arise.

And they start requesting data, they start requesting copies of the current system database, they start spending time interpreting that information.

They have to half-scrap the car to avoid surprises.

But the truth is that in this process they spend a lot of effort on a job that they don’t know if they are really going to recover.

Because until they present the proposal to the client, there is no guarantee that the project will go ahead.

And, seeking to increase the reliability of the diagnosis, they spend so much time that the client begins to doubt that they are really professional and effective.

Because the customer, at this point, does not care about the effort put in by the supplier.

In fact, the feeling is that by now the process could probably have been done if we had been working on the migration.

But we don’t even have the budget.

Do they need to go that far?

That depends on the degree of reliability they want to give.

Most probably, like the mechanic, with a few questions and their experience they could have made a first estimate with a reasonable degree of reliability.

But, as in many other things in this life, when you want to get closer to perfection the work increases exponentially.

Maybe. Just maybe. It would have been sufficient to give a range of costs and time to do the migration based on your experience and a few questions.

Making clear in the proposal some assumptions so that if major deviations arise, the budget can be revised.

And, based on this, start the project already.

The final feeling would be absolutely different. Of being professional, effective and result oriented as opposed to the current feeling of total blockage.

A current feeling that can end in the possible cancellation of the whole project.

Because of trying to strive for perfection.