When I was interviewing for my first job out of college I was asked, “what’s your biggest weakness?” In hindsight, I should have stared back at the interviewer with a sly smile and calmly said, “brevity.”
Instead, I slightly panicked, and stumbled through saying, “uh, I think I’m too much of a perfectionist. I like for things I build to be just right, and I have a hard time when others don’t hold themselves to the same quality bar.”
At the time I was (rather obviously) trying to turn a question about weakness into something I could spin as a strength of mine. Although my answer was weak, I didn’t realize until many years later that being a perfectionist is a horrible thing for a product manager to be, and my answer was accidentally much worse than I realized.
Product managers need to ship. A perfect product is absolutely no good if it’s never released. At some point in a product’s life the Product Manager needs to look at his or her creation and acknowledge that while it’s not perfect, it’s time to release. There will always be small bugs to squish, visual tweaks to be made, and copy to improve. But none of those are as important as getting users in the door.
This is relatively obvious when considering a new product that hasn’t yet hit market. But the curse of perfectionism also lurks when iterating on live products.
In the world of online applications the pace of iteration is extremely fast. Teams are often short on time and have a massive list of things to do. One of the most important product manager abilities is knowing what to build and why. Once that is decided, a PM must keep a feature moving and not get caught up in the details. There have been many times I’ve wanted to spend an extra week polishing a certain UI mockup or getting devs to code slightly cleaner functionality. Typically these final polish items only add very incremental value and can become a huge time sink.
Finally, one of the hardest places to ignore perfectionism can be around delegation. Being a Product Manager means you depend on many different people for many different roles. PM’s work with UX, UI, artists, copy writers, marketers, and other PM’s. Often this means trusting someone to do their job, and accepting what they give back. A busy PM does not have time to sit with these people and perfect their contribution. While I’m not advocating accepting sub-par work, at some point PM’s need to remove themselves from some of the details and trust that other team members will deliver.
Just like product managers, authors cannot be perfectionists either. It’s much better to have a live article, even if it means there are a few mistakes and