When Less is More: How thinking Lean got me unstuck
I was working on a deliverable for a prospective client this past week. I had sketched out a strawman and was translating it into a narrative format so the client could review with their senior leader. You would think I was almost done right? Home free and ready for the weekend!
Not so much. Friday afternoon I started doing hours and hours of research. I was telling my accountability buddy I would be working the weekend on this assignment. Fleshing out this point here. Putting more detail on that point there. Adding more supporting research. I was stuck in a perfection loop. Before I knew it I was typing my third page.
That’s when I stopped and remembered the prospective client’s request: “If you could put together a one-pager for me for my meeting, that would be really helpful.”
I was on three pages.
This wasn’t what the client requested.
An excellent product of the highest quality is one thing. Giving the client more than they asked for is another. From talking with the prospective client, I knew they were insanely busy, and wanted something concise and to the point to share with their senior leader so they could quickly sell the project need, sell our proposal and get the engagement started.
My laborious and verbose three-pager was likely going to put the prospective client off.
What was I doing?
I was wasting time and effort producing a product the client didn’t want or ask for. I was producing muda, or, known in the Lean world, a form of waste. Specifically, I was overproducing: making more than was immediately required. I was also overprocessing: adding a higher degree of work than was requested (with my little detail here, and just a paragraph more there).
I almost let my perfectionism get in the way of delivering exactly what was needed, and potentially sabotaging the engagement. Why?
I also wasted hours and hours of time and effort obsessing over creating the perfect something that wasn’t asked for in the first place.
As a result, this cost me time and effort I could have put toward other projects and activities that were just as high on the priority list and just as time sensitive. I was getting nothing else done—and I really needed to get other deliverables crossed off the list.
Fortunately, I realized this halfway through the weekend and was able to salvage the time left, whittle my proposal down to the one page the prospective client requested, and move on to other things. I got myself unstuck.
In thinking about my experience, here are some lessons learned:
- Keep the need/request front and center and deliver the highest quality of what is asked. Nothing more. Nothing less. In the consulting world, the client is only going to pay for what is in scope and what is “value-added” to them. I had forgotten this and got stuck thinking about my own insecurities and doubts. That’s when the perfection monster moved in.
- If you find yourself adding to the scope of the deliverable, stop and ask yourself why. Why am I doing this? In addition to getting the perfect proposal, I found I was also avoiding other things on my priorities matrix. And I knew why. They felt hard, that’s why. It was easier to devote hours and hours of research to this proposal than face the other things I had to do.
- When planning work, allocate the appropriate time for the task and then set a timer while working. This will keep you mentally focused on the scope of the effort and the timer will remind you that there was a defined allocation for the time to be spent on the project. I made the mistake of not defining the time I was going to spend on the proposal, and, as a result, I wasted time.
Have you ever had this experience? I’d love to hear your comments.
For more tips and techniques to get unstuck, click here.