I'm looking for an English adjective, idiom, phrase, or principle to describe complex tasks/jobs/processes/things where the baseline is "perfection". And where people only notice the importance of the task/job/process/thing when it doesn't work.

An example of this is food/goods delivery. When people order food or goods online, they expect them to arrive on time at their door. Everything below this bar makes people notice or get frustrated, even though this is a complex process where a lot of things can go wrong.

Another example is salary payments. Every US employee expects their employer to pay their salaries on the 15th and 1st of the month, the full amount. It is a complex process that involves a lot of prerequisites (the balance sheet is balanced, the bank transfer worked, ...)

In the industrialized world, you can also have telecommunication, internet services, water, electricity, and public transport... For all human air, etc. You get the idea.

What is the name/idiom/phrase for these types of things?

  • Sort of ‘streamline’?
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 19:32
  • Can you create an example sentence with a fill-in-the-blank ____ where the word would be used? Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 23:16
  • 1
    The question asks a clear question about a well defined class of tasks possibly characterised by a word or phrase. Answers, if they exist, will be constrained well by the question and are therefore not simply a matter of opinion. Leave open.
    – Anton
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 23:35
  • I’m unclear on what you’re asking... supply chain? chain of command? infrastructure? Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 1:46
  • It's common to talk about things people only notice when they go wrong - see this ELL question. But that's not quite the same as things you only notice if they are not done perfectly, as there is some latitude with many tasks before it's noticeable.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 10:04

6 Answers 6


Hygiene Factor is the marketing term for this type of situation.

a feature of a product or service that is expected and will make a customer unhappy if it does not exist


Notably, people will often not value such things in market surveys framed as "which of these is most important to you", but become enraged when the feature is missing. The term feature here typically refers to something like the quality or reliability of the product.

  • 2
    So far this answer is the closest to what I'm looking for. But it is not exactly the term I'm expected. I'll leave this question open for a while, and if I can't find a better satisfying answer, I'll choose this one. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 18:10

You could describe such jobs as having no room for error. (Also known as no margin for error) Per the website Jargonism, if something has no room for error, it is:

Something that requires a high-degree of accuracy.

Also consider sensitive, as in, 'these are sensitive tasks':

highly responsive or susceptible...easily hurt or damaged...excessively or abnormally susceptible (Merriam-Webster)

Or exacting:

demanding a lot of effort, care, or attention (Cambridge)

requiring careful attention and precision (Merriam-Webster)


The expression you're looking for might be "thankless task".

Collins Dictionary has these examples:

Regulators have a thankless task.
Times, Sunday Times (2015)

To be fair, being a goalkeeper for any handball team is a thankless task.
Times, Sunday Times (2012)

Organising was a thankless task, with only frustration and failure stretched out before it.
Times, Sunday Times (2008)



Merriam-Webster: to value rate or estimate below real worth. To treat as having little value.


What you're describing sounds like a Utopian scenario.

Utopia refers to an idealised, perfect scenario that can never be attained in practice


In education, this is often called a Hurdle Requirement or Hurdle. Meaning a task that has to be achieved to some given standard for the student to progress. I think you could say something like

on time payment is a hurdle requirement for a payroll system

edit: it seems that this might only apply to the Australian education system

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