When Is Good Enough Not?

What I love about Agile ways is its empiricism. Accepting that we cannot predict and plan how things will turn out. Accepting instead, to just start, try something, learn, and adjust along the way. Accepting that “good enough” trumps “perfect” at every step. Preferring to be approximately right-ish, quickly than exactly wrong, slowly.

This holds true whether I’m making a batch of chocolate chip cookies or building a new product feature. Fast and early feedback guides what we do next. Shorten the bake time for the next batch of cookies. Reduce the number of steps to use the feature. Mistakes are expected and can be delicious when baking!

However, sometimes “good enough” just won’t do.

My 93 year old father is very set in his ways. He’s especially particular about his muffins. He prefers blueberry muffins. One time, at a local bakery, I asked for blueberry muffins so that I could bring some over to him. The bakery clerk said they were out of blueberry muffins but had blackberry muffins. I said,“But, those aren’t blueberry muffins”. She replied, “It’s the same thing”. My father would strongly disagree.

My favourite weekend breakfast is poached eggs. I’ve got it down to a science. Six minutes yields the perfect consistency of egg white and runny yolk to slather over a freshly buttered slice of toast. Anything less than six minutes results in runny egg whites. Anything more than six minutes results in a hard-boiled egg. Still delicious, but not a poached egg.

Remember as a child, learning how to colour within the lines of the pictures in a colouring book? As an adult, I’ve translated that skill to house painting. It’s far more aesthetically pleasing to keep paint off the windows and bricks as you paint the exterior trim and mouldings.

Life or death, mission-critical scenarios like performing a medical procedure or launching a moonshot require pinpoint accuracy. “Good enough” in those cases is just not enough. Even one mistake can prove deadly for patients and space equipment alike.

The recent Rogers’ cellular network outage in Canada illustrates another dimension to the shortcomings of “good enough” thinking – the dimension of systems thinking interconnectedness. The 15 hour outage on a Friday was a major pain-in- the-a$$ inconvenience for me. I, and millions of other Rogers network subscribers across Canada ventured out of our homes and offices in search of free non-Rogers based wifi networks at local coffee shops and retail stores. For others, the implications were far more dire. 911 emergency services were severely impacted leading to unreachable 911 calls. Store Interac-based payment systems were also hit leading to some retailers having to revert to cash for purchases in a cashless society.

Even without the outage, is the 99.5% reliability of the latest/greatest 5G cellular networks good enough? That translates to 43.8 hours of downtime over the course of a year or 7.2 minutes of downtime per day. A 7.2 minute daily outage may be good enough for me and definitely between than 15 hours. But, far from acceptable for a 911 call. For those with emergency needs, should they not expect nothing less than 100% zero downtime?

And what about the future expansion of our interconnected systems as we double down on our digital lifelines? Will anything less then 100% uptime be good enough for remote surgeries or fully autonomous vehicles?

This brings me back full circle to my penchant for agile ‘good enough’ ways of working.

It’s good enough for agile teams to just start and learn along the way to become a high performing team.

The classic metaphor of a team learning how to row together comes to mind. In the beginning, it’s good enough to start with everyone in the scull with an oar getting use to each other on the water. Eventually however, if they want to go anywhere, they’ll need to learn how to row in unison.

Organizations sometimes forget that good enough for today will not be good enough for tomorrow.

Like a hockey player caught admiring their shot as it sails into the top corner of the net only to get levelled by the opposition, teams can get complacent celebrating today’s achievements and forget that it’s a never-ending journey of continuous improvement. Here are 2 common examples I’ve experienced:

  1. A big change initiative that pursued an “end state” goal. A subtle change from “end state” to “future state” was all it took to change leadership’s mindset of where they were headed. A future state trumps an end state.
  2. One organization’s NPS (Net Promoter Score) improved from -23 to +24. That was certainly a great achievement but were they really satisfied with being just “favourable” in their customers’ eyes? What would need to happen if they decided to target +50 (“excellent”)? or +80 (“world-class”)?

It’s not “good enough” to just start. It’s “can we do better” to improve and grow?

We let you down yesterday. You have my personal commitment that we can, and will, do better.

Tony Staffieri, President and CEO, Rogers Communications, July 9th 2022

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