Good Enough is OK

Quick Summary: Good enough performance or outcomes should be considered in all decision-making activities.


Although striving to be the best-in-class for every activity in a business might seem to be a worthy goal, to attain it would require unlimited resources.  The reality is that being “good enough” is far more effective allowing the efforts to reach best-in-class performance to be applied to only a handful of strategically key activities.  During a decision-making process, the larger context needs to be considered and the good enough question asked regarding the particular issue in question. 

Virtually every organization can think of ways that they could improve some aspect of their business if they had more resources available.  Over the years, some highly successful companies have spent money on some extravagant aspects of their business or attempted to expand in areas that proved to be less than successful.  In many instances, those initially rationalized plans required significant cutbacks and were, in hindsight, viewed as corporate bloat.  The term “right sizing” was used to justify the cutbacks.  Although certainly not an academically validated term, these situations can be thought of as example of the “empty closet” theory that is also known as the out-of-disk-space theory.  That theory, which most of us have experienced in our personal lives, postulates that possessions will increase to fill all available space.  For successful organizations, the theory suggests that all projected available resources will be applied to any and all potential opportunities.  This theory may not be applicable in all situations, but there are enough examples to validate it.

The Six Sigma quality initiative, created by Motorola, has been adopted by many organizations.  Its use has been widely recognized as an outstanding initiative that has yielded positive results for virtually every organization that has embraced it.  However, in some instances, it has also resulted into some costly programs that may not be in the true best interest of some organizations.  Like most everything else, if taken to its extreme, it can easily result in significantly reduced returns.  The slippery slope involves companies that accept the premise of striving for perfection in everything that they do.  In fact, some companies scorn at the use of the phrase: “Good Enough” in their pursuit of perfection.  Instead of focusing on their core competencies, they strive for “world class” performance in every aspect of their business.  In a perfect world, with unlimited resources, striving for cross-the-board world class performance might be an admirable goal.  However, resources are never unlimited.  Choices have to be made and trade-offs accepted as practical constraints are considered.  This dose of reality should in no way stop a company from benchmarking and understanding what “could” be done in each aspect of their business.  The issue becomes one of focusing on what “should” be done.  This difference, described as “good enough”, does not imply substandard, poor, or even mediocre performance being accepted as the norm.  It is meant to describe the notion of making conscious investment decisions by considering the impacts on the totality of the business. 

In recent years, there has been a marked change from companies focusing on total vertical integration to the formation of partnerships.  The partnering arrangements allow individual participants to focus on their individual core competencies and allow others to utilize their expertise.  It is occurring across virtually every industry and market segment as well as in NGOs.  Often referred to as “outsourcing”, the process of relying on others allows an organization to focus on their particular expertise and excel in it without the distraction of non-core activities.   As examples, consider the advantages of companies purchasing standard software products or engaging in a software as a service (SaaS) subscription model instead of developing custom applications for every function within their business.  As another example, many non-profit organizations engage outside fund-raising firms to allow the non-profit to focus their attention of the primary services that they provide.  In both cases, and many others as well, the organization might be able to provide a better solution by performing the tasks in-house but at the expense of not focusing on their primary business. 

The “good enough” consideration is in no way contradictory to Principle Five: Demonstrate Sustained, Measurable Improvements in All Aspects of the Business.  At the heart of that principle is the reliance on metrics, goal setting, and forecasting outcomes.  By focusing on those three elements, a company can readily determine where they are, where they would like to be, and predict what they will actually achieve based on the reality of the current and projected situation and events.  The goal could equally be to attain perfection or just as easily be to maintain a good-enough position to allow the focusing and allocation of resources on other activities.  In either case, Principle Five is focused on making improvements.  With our ever-changing environment, improvement, even to maintain the status quo, is constantly with us.  Any improvement requires knowing the baseline and metrics that measure progress.

So, in the decision-making process, the question that should be asked centers around the “good enough” notion that examines the particular issue in a larger context.  Said another way, the decision should be based on “should we do this” instead of “could we do this” and is the current decision in the best long-term interest of the entire organization.  In most instances, “good enough” will be good enough.

Article Number : 4.060305   

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