How Perfectionism Can Negatively Impact Your Effectiveness as a Business Analyst

We business analysts can get caught up in our own ideas of what the system should do and how the end result should look, oftentimes holding on to our concept well beyond when it’s rational to do so. Just like our but can also challenge our communication with others, our tendency toward perfection has its positive and negative aspects as well.

My Story As a Perfectionist

Think about the last time you held steadfast to an idea about what the project should be or what the system should do. My most recent adventure down this path was a year or two ago. We were building a system to handle how a particular kind of data feed went in to and out of a set of databases. The system involved FTP servers, database models, translation files, XML, and all sorts of technical pieces and many interaction points where things to go wrong.

The requirements for this system were captured in one of the first documents I wrote at this company. I love building new systems and I had an original window of opportunity to create something of lasting value for the business. I saw this feed automation project as something that would make everyone’s lives easier, reduce redundant work, and eliminate many customer frustrations.

The reality that happened, however, was that the project quickly slipped into maintenance mode. The little value we were able to accomplish  in “phase 1” required babysitting to keep it running effectively. As a result, all the enhancements to make it a robust system kept being set aside. Because of resource constraints, this back and forth carried on for over a year and by the time I left things were still not “done.”

From an “inside the development team” perspective, this is acceptable (not desirable but acceptable). The project was never fully funded. But what was not acceptable was that I never really let go of my idea. No matter what the discussion, I held onto this idea of a perfect system that would solve all the needs. If we were talking about getting from point A to point B, I wanted to talk about getting to point C which was 3-4 times down the road. Now, of course, I am exaggerating a bit, but the point is that my frame of thinking didn’t change to reflect the reality of the situation. I was being a perfectionist.

In the end this impacted my effectiveness as a business analyst. Instead of engaging in what could be done and adding to the discussion, I was detracting from it in my hopeful attempts to see my idea through.

Is Perfect the Enemy of Good?

Now, the perfectionists among us and the perfectionism in us has a place and can add real value. At it’s root is a desire to do what’s best for our organizations. When everyone else is ready to compromise, perfectionism can keep us motivated to hunt for a solution that might just get us where we want to be. Sometimes it’s not good enough to deliver “good enough.”

But sometimes it is. And in these situations perfectionism creates frustration. If the team becomes perfectionists, you might spend a lot of time optimizing code that never gets released and never delivers business value. If just the business analyst remains a perfectionist, there might be conflict with the implementation team over scope. You are holding onto an idea; they are trying to deliver something within a defined set of constraints.

As @flowchainsensei from Twitter reminded me

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” -Voltaire

Of course, there is a fine line here and others will say that “good enough is the enemy of the great”. So setting aside your perfectionist nature is not necessarily the best approach.

How to Manage Perfectionism

Since I became aware of my own perfectionist tendencies and the negative impact they had on my effectiveness, I’ve implemented a few practices on recent projects to help constrain my perfectionist thinking appropriately.

  1. When I find myself pushing my idea, I stop and consider the business value. I take a step back and figure out why I am tied to my idea and what really needs to happen.
  2. Whenever possible, I get early feedback and input from the development team. This helps me avoid overly constrained paths in the first place and provides me the opportunity to “test my thinking” before fully fleshing out a specific idea.
  3. I am always ready to explore compromises. I often find that on the path toward compromise are hidden gems of elegant, highly valuable, solutions.  Although compromise has a negative connotation as somehow “imperfect” the end result is often better than what you would have delivered if you’d been uncompromising.

At the end of the day, your perfectionism is a double-sided sword. It can drive your project forward to achieve what might not otherwise have been implemented or even thought of. But it can also create distance between you and your stakeholders.

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  1. I am trying to figure out the personality testing for employment. The question is should I be a perfectionist or not be a perfectionist. If I don’t try to be one
    that may mean I am not careful, and tend to overlook things, and make mistakes often. I am still not convinced what the answer is they are looking for. This is a good article and maybe my answer here. I will keep looking though.

    • Sue, In my experience you can’t try to manipulate a personality test for a specific job. And, if you are looking to find fulfillment in your work, it would typically be best not too, anyway, as doing so could land you in a job that’s not a good fit for your strengths. I would focus on finding your strengths and talents, seeing if those are a good fit for the BA roles out there, and just being honest on personality tests.

  2. “The PM side of the BA persona”–I love the visual this creates. This is a nice way to capture the mindset I think we’re all looking for.

  3. I definitely suffer from this problem and it was good to read this article, it was like therapy. I have been coming around to the “good enough” mentality more and more, and grasping the value of getting something done and out there, rather than dithering over details which may not affect the final deliverable greatly. Like you say, you need to take a step back and weigh up the business impact and relevance. The PM side of the BA persona needs to make an appearance and control that scope and keep you on track.

  4. It is a great discussion every BA and Test Analyst should read.
    I have also read a topic called “context driven testing” – this is a similar approach to saying “you have to make the right compromises for the optimal results”.
    I always apply this principle (I have actually started writing this on a white board whichever organization I go) –
    Clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy!

    this theory seems to work for everything…….even in personal life!

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