Last week, I finally painted the guest bathroom in my house.
That’s to say I’ve been painting a bathroom since last week.
First, we spent a combined 4 hours (that’s two hours each for both of us) painting the bathroom a wonderful shade of lavender. Then I had to come back and touch up a few spots where the paint was too thin (yellow was still peeking through) or we’d just missed a spot entirely. Another two hours.
Next, we needed to touch up the white on the trim around the room. This took another 2 hours with a small paintbrush … except the white we used for touching things up didn’t match the trim in the first place! A few days later I had to come back and spend yet another 2 hour block re-touching the white trim with the correct hue.
Now, unfortunately, the new white had bled into some of the areas meant to be lavender. 1 Another block of time for retouching the lavender, and the room looks presentable.
But it’s still not perfect.
The line on the ceiling where lavender gives way to white is uneven. On one wall it even looks like there’s lavender on the ceiling. The line separating the two colors on the lower part of the trim is uneven with bumps here and there. The perfectionist in me is pacing back and forth, ready to take someone’s head off.
But still, Saturday night we had guests over. The options we had: mark the guest bathroom as off-limits, or live with an imperfect paint job and hope everyone would be kind.
We opted to hope for kindness.
No one noticed the flaws in the paint job.
Perfection has a Price
I am not and will likely never be a professional painter. A professional has the right tools, the right skills, and the experience to paint a small room like I did in an hour or two – and have me thanking her for the the skillful job immediately. My attempt took over 12 hours to get things done.
For those keeping track, that’s the equivalent to a day and a half of billable time if I’d spent it on client work instead.
Assume a billable rate of $100 2 and assume billable work would have actually been available as an alternative to painting. This means I essentially spent $1200 to paint a half-bathroom (not including the cost of the paint and supplies).
And it’s still not perfect.
I could spend another 12 hours working on that room, and I might get it to my standards of perfect. But that would be another 12 hours lost; another $1200 forfeit. Ironically, even with that added investment, my guests would likely still not notice the difference.
After all, they all felt the bathroom was already fine when they saw it on Saturday.
Often, we work diligently on a project only to slip release dates by weeks, months, or even years because it’s just not quite right. There’s a flaw in the UI that holds us from hitting a deployment button. The color scheme feels “wonky,” 3 so we take our designs back to the beginning and re-evaluate.
A new code framework, communications protocol, or hardware innovation comes up that could improve our not-yet-released widget. Despite declaring things “ready” we now see massive room for improvement and what once was launch-able is now fatally flawed.
When a product or project means a great deal to us personally, our demand for perfection is reflected professionally in holding back releases until things improve. Sadly, few (if any) of our customers will see the product the same way we do.
To them, it might already seem perfect.
The curse of knowledge means we will always be more critical of the job we’ve done than our customers because we know the mistakes we’ve made along the way and can see where improvement can be made. Great! Use that to your advantage when releasing a more-refined 2.0.
If we waited for software – or hardware, or literature, or film, or bathroom paint jobs – to be perfect, we’d never ship anything. There’s always room for improvement.
The question you need to ask: is the additional investment to move us closer to “perfection” worth holding things back yet again? Or could this time be better spent making refinements down the road?
- Working with oil-based paint is never fun. It’s sticky (you can’t remove a slip without paint thinner) and gets everywhere if there’s a stray hair/fiber sticking from your brush. ↩
- This is intentionally low and conservative. When I was last freelancing my rate was between $200-300, depending on the project. ↩
- Technical term here. Look it up. ↩