Done is Better Than Perfect
I was reading an article about Facebook recently and took note of the social network's motto, "Done is better than perfect." That took me back a few years, specifically to Lands' End in the 90s. One of my boss' favorite sayings was, "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good." Recognizing the shared genealogy in those two phrases, I spent a distracted 15 minutes looking at other variations of the theme.
According to Wikipedia, the oldest known usage came from Confucius, who described "the golden mean" while counseling against extremism in general. Wikipedia also reminds us that the Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule) explains the idea numerically.
My favorite came from General George S. Patton: "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
Obviously, retail planning doesn't have the drastic consequences of a military battlefield, but Patton's words do resonate. Retailers have their own version of battles to win customers and drive sales.
We see it repeatedly with our Direct Tech customers. Inventory planners may not act "violently," but certainly "a good plan ... executed now" is almost always better than waiting until later to act.
The battlefield analogy also fits inventory planners in the sense that they should always be reacting to changing field conditions (e.g., new sales information, supplier delivery issues). The planner's world doesn't revolve around making a perfect plan and then buying once. Rather, it's ever-changing, requiring that they make a good plan and then constantly react and improve inventory conditions through reorders, adjusting to marketing decisions and targeted markdowns.
I recall lost weekends and sleepless nights as an inventory planner preparing for seasonal plan reviews. We dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" in our quest to ensure that every last unit and dollar in the plan was defensible. We'd sail through the planning review, field the challenging questions, and confidently leave the meeting with an approved plan.
It was PERFECT! And then ... the next day we would get new information. Yesterday's approved plan would have to change.
I'm a huge advocate of formal seasonal planning processes. They provide a critical framework for setting sales and margin goals as well as confirming product assortments to achieve those goals. However, they can't be too rigid. Plans are best if they set high-level goals and confirm strategies, yet give the frontline merchants and inventory planners the flexibility to react as needed to meet them.
Whether on the battlefield or in a retail setting, the field general cannot be with every soldier or inventory planner, directing every action. After confirming the objective and outlining the strategy, the leader must stand aside; it's up to those on the front lines to make the decisions that actually achieve the stated goals.
In the end, success isn't driven by any one "perfect" decision or action, but by a series of good and timely decisions. Done IS better than perfect.
Joe is Vice President of Product Solutions at Software Paradigms International (SPI), an award-winning provider of technology solutions, including merchandise planning applications, mobile applications, eCommerce development and hosting and integration services, to retailers for more than 20 years.
Joe is a 34-year veteran of the retail industry with hands-on experience in marketing, merchandising, inventory management and business development at multichannel retail companies including Lands’ End, LifeSketch.com, Nordstrom.com and Duluth Trading Company. At SPI, Joe uses his experience to help customers and prospects understand how to improve sales and profits through applying industry best practices in merchandise planning and inventory management systems and processes.