[Common Questions] How can we improve upon the multitasking of perfectionists?

"Between stimulus and response, one has the freedom to choose. " Dr. Stephen Covey 
Many psychologists have tried to prove over and over again that multitasking generally is non-productive. However the true definition of multitasking and it scope is debatable.

My suggestion to handle the multitasking perfectionists is to get the comfort level from them instead of externally deciding to give them team leading or other related responsibilities. It depends on the type of personality on how technical or related superiority can be maintained.
  • Responsibility to train the secondary experts should be mutually agreed. 
  • Carrying out appraisals for the direct reports should not be forced on them. 
  • Even the code reviewing of teams' output can be shared with their consent.
The flexible team structures must allow alternative ways to share such responsibilities while maintaining focus on the utilization of their true expertise. 
The recommendation here is to provide an internal mechanism on the team basis to allow perfectionists to choose the level of distractions they are happy with.

All in all - being perfectionists, these stars try to shine with every challenge they encounter.

[Common Questions] Why the near perfect output from perfectionists is hardly on time or always useful?

Complex scenarios require systems thinking - hence there is generally more to it than the face value. 

The definition of excellence of deliverable is very subjective and should not be taken in isolation. The systems thinking in this scenario involves time to market, return on investment, quality and cost of delay (if not delivered).

Unless we fully understand and define 'value' while being aware of systemic impacts - every task will be daunting and too late for the market without the real customer's perspective. This is because customers will only see the output from the perfectionists at the end and market conditions might have changed during this long 'in progress' phase in pursuit of higher quality.

[Common Questions] Who is responsible for managing the perfectionists?

The short answer is: It is the whole team's responsibility.
The long term (vision sharing) answer is:
  • Line managers needs to support this exception to the norm.
  • Scrum masters/ transformation leaders need to facilitate and coach the stars according to the stars' personality.
  • Transformation leaders need to create an environment that supports the management of complex tasks with appropriate balance of time, scope and quality).
  • The team itself has to be able to recognize the great contributions from the perfectionists and when to make a call on scope creep controls.
  • Architects and Tech Leads need to pair up and try to control the scope in agreement with the product ownership team. This in turn helps the struggling stars to revive their glory.
  • In effect - it is a team's responsibility. 
Picture By Ursus Wehrli

Based on my extensive management consulting, coaching and team mentoring at various levels in the past few years - I have seen perfectionists at almost every level in organizations. It depends upon the industry vertical and market conditions in addition to R&D funding etc.

The overall organizational culture needs to transform and has to be supportive of internal mechanisms for the teams while maintaining the overall consistency.

Preventing gold plating from star team members

Star team members sometimes develop an identity of delivering gold plated master pieces for every task they endeavour. This can sometimes be a critically useful contribution while an anchor to a speed-boat on other occasions.

Applying diamond cutting standards as a rule can likely stall the progress on every facet of a project.

Here are some ways to clarify the exception scenario to utilize these positive qualities while meeting the minimum acceptance criteria as a norm:

Propose time bound analysis activity. Let the specialists work on time bound and focused activities. This in turn will simplify the situation and minimize the possibility of digression into solving world hunger.
Gauge multi-tasking while managing comfort level. Based on the personality assessment of the perfectionist, try to get the comfort level from them on playing multiple roles at a time (e.g. analysing and leading/ managing).

Share the other side of the systems impact. Help the team members recognize when gold plating has negative outcomes. Explain the impact on the team's delivery commitments in a bigger picture.

Provide systems feedback. Perfectionists sometimes get frustrated with hearing criticism of their master pieces. Keep communicating positively with a non-blaming mindset in pursuit of finding an agreeable feedback method.

Ask for their definition of value. Share the golden rule and definition of waste from the lean principles. Value is only what the customer is willing to pay for - rest is all waste.

Preparation and continuous evolution of practices based on solid principles is of essence. Promoting systems' thinking and bringing the delivery targets into perspective without compromising on quality while staying focused on value can sometimes help in maintaining the right libra (balance).

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