Why "Good Enough"... Isn't
About a year ago, I had an opportunity to have dinner with the CEO of an engineering startup company in Pennsylvania. As we discussed engineering design matters over Chinese food, he took a few moments to talk about his business philosophy. "As far as I'm concerned," he told me, "if a product is good enough, then it's perfect." He explained that in his view, product improvements should only be performed with the specific goal of increasing sales. "Anything else," he said, "provides no benefit to the company. It's just over-engineering."
In a way, I could see his point; after all, a company should avoid spending too much effort to develop features that nobody cares about. In most companies, time and manpower are precious commodities that must be invested wisely. Nevertheless, his statement left a rather sour taste in my mouth, and here's why.
First, his choice of words suggests that the customer's needs are relatively unimportant, and that profit-making is the only thing that matters. To my mind, this is a false dichotomy. It's true that a company has to guard its bottom line, and that its resources are limited. It's true that it must avoid making extravagant promises to its customers. At the same time though, a company that adopts a lukewarm attitude toward pleasing its customers is unlikely to engender a great deal of client loyalty. A successful company is one that understands the importance of customer delight.
Second, this perspective treats "good enough" as though it were some clearly identifiable goal--a distinct line of demarcation, separating the unsatisfactory from the unnecessary. In reality, this boundary can be quite fuzzy. Often, customers don't know what they would consider to be satisfactory--not until they have gained more experience with the product. This means that a company is forced to guess at what constitutes "good enough"--and if they underestimate those requirements, they may have a lot of unsatisfied customers on their hands. That's why it's important for a customer to set its sights a little higher.
Third, and most importantly, one can expect this perspective to promote a corporate culture of mediocrity rather than an attitude of excellence. If employees are told that they should only strive for what's "good enough," then that's precisely what they'll deliver-not just to the customer, but to the employer as well! A mediocre attitude will result in mediocre products, which ultimately benefits nobody.
That is why I maintain that "good enough" just isn't good enough. People need to take pride in their work, and companies need to strive for excellence. Companies do have limited resources, to be sure. Still, that should not stop them from seeking to delight their customers, or from producing work that they can brag about. To put it another way, a company may not be able to deliver the moon, but it should always reach for the stars.
This article was posted on November 03, 2004
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