Can you be a perfectionist as a Product Manager… and still have a life?

It’s natural for good engineers to be perfectionists… it’s the mythical strive towards bug-free software.  It’s driven into us in all our product development efforts.  And it’s natural then that if you are a perfectionist in one career – like a developer – it will carry over to other careers – like Product Management or Product Marketing.  Actually, to any management positioning in general.

But is this necessarily a GOOD thing?

There are lots of blog entries / articles out there on this so I won’t recap them all here.  But my view in the PROS and CONS of this trait is one big PRO and a bunch of nagging CONS.

The big PRO of being a perfectionist Product Manager, of course is that perfectionists are striving for EXCELLENCE.  And excellent products are developed in large measure by perfectionists.  When you are talking about great products out there, or great designs, it’s clear someone has sweat out the details.  I think this is true for most Apple products, and it can be especially effective when applied to a very focused function – like Google search.  Perfectionism leads to great products.

The secret, I realized, is that PERFECT PRODUCTS don’t happen overnight.  They went through several evolutions – sometimes behind closed doors – so that by the time they make it to the public, it seems that perfectionist was achievable in a short span of time when it wasn’t.

So here are some of the CONS of being a perfectionist Product Manager, especially in reference to creating and launching great products:

  • You’ll never get the product out the door – yeah, that’s a killer 😉
  • You will never feel satisfied – the perfect product isn’t going to happen in one release; enjoy the progress you make and plan on the next one.
  • It can wear you out or drive you nuts – product releases can be like marathons, but to a perfectionist, it can feel like one with a moving finish line.
  • Diminishing returns – sometimes, the details you’re sweating may be pointless, if viewed objectively
  • Don’t forget the big picture – Product Management is the first move towards some form of management for some engineers; and good managers always remember the bigger business picture.

On this last point, I’ll point out how this problem can kill you all the way up to Executive levels.  I’ve seen CEOs give company lectures to the whole company on his PowerPoint pet peeves (e.g. “not sticking to guidelines is a fireable offense”).  Another CEO changed one sentence 5 times on an obscure page in his web site.  One Executive nagged me over one visual in a product demo when the overall launch plan was needed much more attention.

The point is: perfectionism is not bad, but like any prescription med, mind the dosage or it will kill you. 

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