You can’t make an omelette

I see a project as having three sides: timescales, morale and quality. If you prioritise perfection and don’t care about anything else, you’re going to miss your deadlines and alienate your team.

I wrote that last year in the context of people who call themselves “perfectionists”; I was making the point that “perfectionists” often end up

taking a lot from other people and giving back nothing but criticism, without even helping to deliver a finished project

because that’s what you get if you focus on one of the three sides of the triangle and ignore the others.

Of course, focusing on timescales alone can have similarly disastrous effects. I recently watched an episode of Saturday Kitchen while spending time with some elderly relatives, and got a fascinating example of this.

Saturday Kitchen has a feature called the Omelette Challenge, where the goal is to cook a three-egg omelette as quickly as possible. Chefs compete to beat each other’s times and move up the leaderboard. Wikipedia tells me that the current record-holder is Paul Rankin, with a time of 17.52 seconds.

In the episode I watched, the winning chef did what you’d expect; cracked the eggs as quickly as possible, beat them as quickly as possible and threw the resulting mix into a frying pan on a very high heat. What he didn’t do was create anything resembling an omelette. He just threw a grey mass of uncooked eggs onto a plate and announced that he’d finished. The losing chef created something that looked much more like an omelette (albeit still undercooked) but she lost the contest and ended up low down on the leaderboard because this contest is just about speed, not quality.

I’d be interested to know just how far you can push this. If it’s OK to serve up the omelette without cooking it properly, is it OK to serve it up without cooking it at all? Is it OK to leave out the step where you beat the eggs? Or the step where you crack the eggs? The logical conclusion of focusing solely on speed, with no other specifications in place, is that someone just takes the three eggs, puts them on a plate still in their shells and announces “Finished!” I’d love to see that happen, just as a test case.

My relatives inform me that they’ve never seen a chef produce an edible-looking omelette during the Omelette Challenge. Apparently the show’s presenters and guests never touch the results of the Omelette Challenge either.

The Omelette Challenge is a perfect example of how focusing on timescales, and timescales alone, can ruin a project. Everything gets done very fast, but all the project’s resources are wasted because there’s no edible result to show for it. And morale is low because you can’t create something even halfway edible without being penalised for it, so you can’t take any pride in your work. Of course, how you feel about it depends on what you think you’re making: a meal or a few minutes of television?

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