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

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? rbrenYMJtXabHWgGJMoRsner@ChacNKDjuqizEDBsPZPsoCanyon.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:

Detour SignHow We Avoid Making Decisions
When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
Uphill trekSelling Uphill: Before and After
Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading decision-makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way for success now and in the future?
Computer monitors being recycled by the Nevada Division of Environmental ProtectionHow Not to Accumulate Junk
Look around your office. Look around your home. Very likely, some of your belongings are useless and provide neither enjoyment nor cause for contemplation. Where does this stuff come from? Why can't we get rid of it?
A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageUnnecessary Boring Work: II
Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
A voltmeter with a needleHigh Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879, famed abolitionist and ex-slaveComing June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatAnd on June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCqvlLagrnZODXWHLner@ChacSUluFaOnXyVRubGBoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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.