b-school, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects

Under-promise and overachieve (the expectations model)

One of the things that happen to often in program management is that contractors, specifically their project managers, want to be too nice. Yes, of course they must be nice, but not that nice.

I’m not talking of nice presents or sumptuous dinners. I’m talking of making too much promises. Well, it’s understandable when you don’t have the contract but, once you have it, it’s a most annoying practice.

Reality is stubborn, bull-headed, disobedient, especially to the wishes of a project manager. It’s not her but her team who is really doing the hard work and, as they try to please her, they will tell her whatever she wants to hear… until the milestones get closer and the completion gets -or should get- nearer.

Then, nervousness gives way to hysteria and the hidden truth arises and comes out of the closet. The project is not going well. Guess what? Now hard decisions must be made, there’s almost no time and they (we) all go crazy.

Follow my advice: it’s all about managing expectations correctly. Too eager to please, sometimes we are too optimistic and make our projections forgetting risk management, inefficiencies, overheads, limited budgets, mistakes or that people are simply people.

If you are realistic in your predictions, and still take out a small bite allowing for some slack, you’ll be able to actually achieve what you have promised. Even, on the eyes of your benevolent customer, the under-promise might become an overachievement. You won’t lose your face but keep your credibility and increase your perceived efficiency.

Even in the worst case, it’s better to know the truth. Maybe the customer decides not to go ahead with the contract, but that will be better for you because there is no glory in projects that are doomed beforehand. Or maybe you and your customer can discover a better way of doing things, put some safeguards in place or simply make some drastic measures that might increase the probability of success. In any case, honesty is always a good advice.

I’ve tried to describe all this in the following expectations model:

It’s all about aligning expectations and results. The credibility zone is along that line but also tending to the overachievement. In short, people might expect you to do things better as they thought you would, but they won’t forgive if you do worse.

When you go down the credibility zone, there’s only danger: dissatisfied customers are your worst enemy: they may spread the word of a poor job.

Still there’s another danger zone in the upper left hand: giving too high achievements when you’ve managed poor expectations. In this case the problem is the bottom-line: probably you’ve spent more resources than were necessary and your customer would have been satisfied with less. It seems to me you should make a better use of your resources, or handle a few of them back to your organisation: after all they have a cost, although you might not perceive it. But with less capital employed, the profitability grows higher.

Remember: don’t be the one to put the rope around your own neck but do your best to keep it healthy instead. You might have much more leverage than the one you think you have.


2 thoughts on “Under-promise and overachieve (the expectations model)

  1. You’re free to use it 🙂 it’s just a bit of common sense although it’s always good to keep in mind… I keep reminding it to others once or twice every week LOL

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