Q: I work with someone who is a perfectionist. This is challenging under normal circumstances. But now we need to move quickly to provide technical solutions that help our customers during COVID-19 conditions.
How can I get her to become more flexible so that we can roll out solutions that are possible, rather than waiting to develop ones that are perfect?
Diana, 46, I.T. applications director
A: Be very clear on your goal, defining it precisely so that “nice to haves” can be set aside.
Let’s say, for example, that you need to set up a system for customers to interact with your company virtually rather than face to face.
Describe the core need. For example, “Customers need to be able to pick up items curbside instead of coming into our facility.”
Notice that this can apply to all types of organizations: stores with essential products, government agencies, even libraries.
The core steps will be the same for all: Customer communicates need, team organizes items and customer receives them.
Simple, right? The problem comes in when people involved all have a different idea of what that must include. And if you don’t get that straight from the beginning, you’ll get bogged down on trying to deliver.
Put your goals in user story form. This might be something like, “I want to pick up my delivery at your door. I want it to be easy to let you know what I need, and I need the communication to be secure.”
As you can see, the devil will be in the details. You need decent design to deliver on “easy,” but without letting features proliferate.
This isn’t the column to get into the whole Agile framework, but look into it if you want to know more about this iterative approach to development.
For now, focus on the interactions between you and the perfectionist team member.
Take the time to understand her motivations. She may be motivated by fear of falling short. Or she may have a desire to control things that are controllable — a common pattern in a crisis.
Find ways to bring her back to the need to get the primary need met, appealing to her creativity and team spirit.
Show respect for her ideas by capturing them as enhancements and creating a road map that documents potential improvements.
Build her investment in the trade-offs. Fewer features means more speed. It requires less effort from stressed staff people. It also means less financial investment. That should be meaningful, given the economic impact of the pandemic.
Also manage her expectations based on the level of influence she truly has. If she reports to you and you are the decisionmaker, you’ll need to show leadership and make hard decisions.
Be a storyteller for the vision of successful iteration. Your users will first be delighted by a fast solution to their problem. Their experience will then improve as new features are added, as needed. Or you may find that simple is sufficient, leaving more resources available for solving other problems.
Longer-term, keep your eye on the goal of developing a durable partnership with her that combines the best of your perspectives.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.