Joel on Software - Perfectionism - Fortune

Joel on Software - Perfectionism


If I was as much of a perfectionist as some here would have me be, I would never get out the door in the morning, I’d be so busy scrubbing the floors of my apartment until they sparkle and shaving every ten minutes and removing lint from my clothing with masking tape, and by the time I finished that I’d have to shave again and take out the trash because there was masking tape in the trash and re-scrub the floor because when I took the trash out I might have tracked in dust. And then I’d have to shave again.

I could go insane with the web page behind the discussion board. First I could make it 110% xhtml 1.1 + CSS. Heck, why not xhtml 2.0 just to be extra addictive-personality-disordered. Then I could neatly format all the html code so it’s perfectly indented. But the html is generated by a script, and the script has to be indented correctly so that it’s perfect too, and a correctly indented ASP script does not, by defintion, produce correctly indented HTML. So I could write a filter that takes the output of the ASP script and reindents it so that if anybody does a View Source they would see neatly indented HTML and think I have great attention to detail. Then I would start to obsess about all the wasted bandwidth caused by meaningless whitespace in the HTML file, and I’d go back and forth in circles between compressed HTML and nicely laid out HTML, pausing only to shave.

I could spend the rest of my life perfecting the HTML behind every page on all of our sites, or I could do something that might actually benefit someone.

Perfectionism is a very dangerous quality in business and in life, because by being perfectionist about one thing you are, by definition, neglecting another. The three days I spent insuring that all icons in CityDesk 3.0 are displayed with perfect alpha-blended effects came at the price of having a web site where the descender of the “g” is not a hyperlink. And both are at the price of working on my next book, or writing another article for Joel on Software, or making CityDesk publish really big sites faster.

If you’re noticing a recurring theme, it’s that I never like to talk about whether or not to do X. The question should never be “X, yes or no?” As long as you have limited time and resources, you always have to look at the cost and the benefit of X. Questions should be “Is X worth the time” or “Will X or Y have a greater return on investment?”

Author Joel Spolsky
Work News for 22-April-2004