Perfection in Government Work

Sterling is an Acquisition Freak and keeps a blog at

This touches on ontology (the study of existence), but it has a lot to do with government work.

What is perfection?

We normally think of it as ever-constant, singular, and unattainable. Whenever I think I’ve found the Perfect, and I’m perfectly calm and happy, my opinion on what is the Perfect changes.

But maybe we’re partially wrong…maybe the Perfect isn’t ever-constant and singular.

Maybe the Perfect is ever-movinig, everything and unattainable. Maybe why it’s unattainable is because my hands can’t grasp it. Maybe my mind is simply too primitive to comprehend what the Perfect.

Maybe government work is like the Perfect in that it’s ever-movinig, everything and unattainable. Constant changes in regulations. New administrations. New rules and regulations. Shifts in workplace culture. Changing employers. Meeting new people. Promotions.

So what’s the point to doing a good job at work if everything is ever-moving, everywhere and everything? It seems like our impact doesn’t even matter.

But our work does matter because change is a universal constant. People contribute change to that universal constant. Because of that, we impact the universal constant of change. Ever-moving, everywhere, and unattainable.

Or maybe I’m completely crazy.

How do you view perfection?

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Jaime Gracia

Making perfect is certainly the enemy of the good, in my experience in federal work. The 80% solution is sometimes acceptable, in hopes of a incremental capability strategy. I have worked on requirements development initiatives, and the federal government program managers took your definition and put into play an extreme example, as a relatively simple procurement took much longer than it needed to be. Poor requirements were the culprit the first time out, but they tried to perfect the process to the point of diminishing returns.

Don’t think your crazy.

Caryn Wesner-Early

Perfection is inherently temporary, I think. Create the perfect filing system, then computers come along. Build the perfect highway system, then don’t maintain it. Whenever perfection is achieved, it’s achieved for the present moment, and no other.

When I realized this was once when my husband and I were sitting together, companionably talking, and I thought, this is a perfect moment. But if we’d sat there forever, we’d have gotten cramped, hungry, had to go to the bathroom, whatever. It would have become painfully imperfect very quickly. After I realized that, I saw that it’s more or less universally true (like “the best of times, the worst of times”).