Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 11;   March 14, 2007:

Trying to Do It Right the First Time Isn't Always Best

by

You've probably heard the slogan, "Do it right the first time." It makes sense for some kinds of work, but not for all. For more and more of the work done in modern organizations, doing it right the first time — or even trying to — might be the wrong way to go.

Many workplaces are festooned with "slogan posters," and sometimes they do have a positive effect. But sometimes they're unhelpful — even destructive. One slogan that can be especially inappropriate in problem-solving organizations is "Do It Right the First Time." It has an equally inappropriate cousin: "If you don't have time to do it right, how will you get time to do it again?"

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6 during the first-ever docking of two orbiting spacecraft. The Gemini Program was a preliminary to moon exploration, but none of the Gemini vehicles were capable of completing a trip there. The program's purpose was purely experimental. The pilot of Gemini 7, by the way, was James Lovell, who later commanded Apollo XIII, the mission that nearly failed due to an on-board explosion. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

These slogans might make some sense in the operational context, where tasks are very repeatable. But problem-solving tasks are different. Problem solving, which occurs most often in the project context, entails doing something new here, in our organization, if not the world.

Here are three advantages of organizational cultures that grant permission to experiment — to "do it wrong" the first time.

Accelerated progress
We often learn more by doing it wrong than by doing right. A series of well-designed experiments that focus on specific learning goals can usually advance the project faster than consistently trying to implement deliverable solutions.
Normalized risk taking
When we require that every effort produce deliverable results, we create a culture that's averse to taking the kind of risks that are often necessary to complete projects successfully.
Cost savings
When we can accept that a particular implementation isn't "final," and won't ever be, we can take steps to limit our investment in that implementation. We can work on answering only the question at hand.

Even if We often learn more
by doing it wrong
than by doing right
you decide that experimental approaches are sometimes justified, there are three traps awaiting many organizations.

Confusion between operations and projects
Leaders and managers accustomed to operationally oriented organizations often see exploratory failures as worthless indulgences, because they don't directly produce the desired result. Many with strictly operational experience must learn new ways when they manage problem-solving organizations.
Hidden problem-solving organizations
Problem solving organizations can be embedded within operationally oriented organizations. For instance, most IT organizations are responsible for information and computation operations. Managing them requires an operational orientation. But these same IT organizations also contain groups that develop new products and first-of-kind services. Managing these efforts requires a more experimental approach. And this is a problem for slogan posters, because everyone sees them, and some slogans aren't right for everybody.
Cultural inertia
Some organizations have a historically operational orientation, but now perform most of their work in the project context. In some cases, the old culture hasn't yet adapted to the new work.

Doing it right by first doing it wrong can give you personal advantages, too. A very small example: how much better would our work lives be if we gave ourselves permission to keep revising the email messages we write until we feel good about them? You can start today. Go to top Top  Next issue: Dismissive Gestures: I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Answering machine controlsAt the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up
When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
Not feeling so goodPlease Remove My Appendix
When an organization is experiencing problems with conflict, "pushback," or "blowback," managers often hire trainers to present programs on helpful topics. But self-diagnosis can be risky. Often, there are more direct and focused options that can help more and cost less.
A lunar eclipseMaking Meaning
When we see or hear the goings-on around us, we interpret them to make meaning and significance. Some interpretations are thoughtful, but most are almost instantaneous. Since the instantaneous ones are sometimes goofy or dangerous, here's a look at how we make interpretations.
The Stevens Memorial Library in Ashburnham, MassachusettsTake Charge of Your Learning
Many of us let others set our learning agendas — peers, employers, or the mass media. But you can gain much both personally and professionally by setting your own learning agenda.
OverwhelmedHow to Get Overwhelmed
Here's a field manual for those who want to get overwhelmed by all the work they have to do. If you're already overwhelmed, it might explain how things got that way.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.