5 Reasons Why Being Agile Is More Important Than Being Perfect

Find out why speed wins in business, and why perfection gets second place.
September 08, 2011

In the excellent book Little Bets by Peter Sims, there's one quote from a Pixar executive that resonates with me. According the movie maker's John Lasseter:

"We don't actually finish our films, we release them."

When I shared that quote on Twitter—admittedly without much context—I received a mixture of replies, including some that didn't understand the concept. So, what better reason to make it the subject of today's advice!

What both Lasseter and Sims are saying is that your company, product, service or movie will never be finished. It will never be what you would consider to be "perfect." Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don't get this concept. They lock themselves away in dark rooms and keep tweaking and tinkering, thinking that if they can just get everything perfect, their business will be a success.

In the meantime, those companies that simply launch their offering gain a major advantage. While they wouldn't launch something half-finished (or half finished, as I like to call it) they realize that 90 percent perfect is "good enough." They understand that there's really no way to know every flaw, bug or feature request until they actually get their product in the hands of their intended customer.

That's a philosophy we have at Trackur. We practice what is commonly referred to as "agile development" by our peers. Essentially, instead of building a completely finished product (a la Windows latest operating system release) we tackle small projects and release them as and when they are ready. This allows us to iterate our software as needed. In fact, there are many benefits to be obtained when you realize that it's better to release, rather than finish:

1. Speed wins

When you release quickly, you have an advantage over your competitors that tinker and tweak. While they're trying to achieve imaginary perfection, your company is achieving real sales, real market share. While you don't want to be sloppy, you also can't afford to take your time.

2. Perfection equals second place

Let's say it took you 2 years to release the perfect product. A whole lot can change in that time. Customer demands may have shifted. A competitor may have launched a cheaper, faster alternative. By being agile, you can set smaller, short-term deadlines that reduce the chances that your market will shift gears on you.

3. Who's perfection is it anyway?

There's no real way to know if your product or service is perfect until you get it into the hands of your customers. You may find that some features are never actually used. You know, the ones that delayed your launch by 2 months while you perfected them. Also, product bugs are just like their real-world insect namesakes, in that you never really find them all. Even though Apple thought it was releasing the perfect iPhone 4, it didn't take long for its customers to find the major problem with the device's antenna.

4. It energizes your employees

Being agile provides a better energy kick than ten cans of Redbull. Not only does your team get the chance to work on different projects, they get the satisfaction of continually launching new features. You reduce the chances of burnout that comes from months of working on the same project with nothing to show for it.

5. It energizes your customers

When you embrace agile development—and deployment—you also energize your customers. Trackur's customers get excited about any new feature we add to our dashboard, even silly ones like Skulls & Crossbones! It gives your customers, and your market, something new to talk about. It keeps your company "top of mind" while that competitor that's still in "stealth mode" languishes in perfect obscurity.

Of course, there are times when being perfect not only makes sense, but is downright demanded. For example, if I ever needed brain surgery or, heck, new brakes for my car, I'd demand perfection. Those are two instances where I'd rather have something done perfectly, than quickly!