Peter Farrell and Andrew Kulyk of Buffalo, New York, aren't ordinary sports fans. In 1999, attending the All-Star game of the National Hockey League in Tampa, Florida, they decided to try to attend games at all the venues of the four major U.S. sports leagues: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. They "finished" in December 2002, but since new venues are opening all the time, their odyssey continues.
Projects of this kind appear in almost every field of human endeavor. You can buy an anthology of every video ever released by Bruce Springsteen; you can join the New England 4,000 Footers Club by climbing every peak in New England exceeding 4,000 feet; or you can join the Seven Continents Club by running a marathon on each of the seven continents [Note 1].
This pattern is so common that we have a name for it: completism. In pop culture, completist activities are somewhat amusing (if sometimes questionable) hobbies, provided they don't interfere with one's health and well-being.
In business, completism is often an indicator of trouble. Here are some of the forms completism takes in business.
- The lopsided product line
- We sometimes offer products that exist mostly to "complete the set" — to make our offering span the entire market. We use descriptors like "full spectrum" or "complete" to describe these offerings.
- Does it make sense to offer products that serve less than 1% of the market? Perhaps, but we could ask the question more often than we do. Sometimes full coverage is important — it can simplify the buyer's decision process. But often, full coverage is simply completism and provides no advantage to buyer or seller.
- The overfull benefits menu
- Packing the menu of employee benefits is one approach to solving the problem of inadequate benefits. Some companies offer options that few people want and still fewer elect, but the menu appears to be complete, which makes it an attractive recruiting tool. The complexity of the offering is confusing in itself.
- Offering a simpler array of truly valuable benefits might be cheaper for the company, and more useful to its employees.
- Creeping featurism
- In product Does it make sense
to offer products that
serve less than 1%
of the market?design, completism sometimes leads to offering numerous capabilities that only a few users can understand and most wouldn't use even if they could understand them. To make the products look simple, we hide these features, which further reduces their accessibility.
- Simpler products are cheaper and easier to use. Reducing the feature array might make marketing more difficult, but let's solve marketing problems with marketing, not featuremongering.
Perhaps the most common and expensive example of completism at work is the compound failure — the failure to cancel the zombie project that has already failed but lives on. What are you or your company doing only for the sake of completeness? What would happen if you stopped? Top Next Issue
Are 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 welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: III
- Adages are so elegantly stated that we have difficulty doubting them. Here's Part III of a collection
of often-misapplied adages.
- Intentionally Unintentional Learning
- Intentional learning is learning we undertake by choice, usually with specific goals. When we're open
to learning not only from those goals, but also from whatever we happen upon, what we learn can have
far greater impact.
- How to Deal with Holding Back
- When group members voluntarily restrict their contributions to group efforts, group success is threatened
and high performance becomes impossible. How can we reduce the incidence of holding back?
- Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their
subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate.
It breeds micromanagers.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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