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Stop Lying To Your Stakeholders
Never Under-Promise nor Over-Deliver. Ever.
I saw some truly terrible advice given on a LinkedIn project management thread a while ago. In a discussion about scope management, a relatively young project manager gave the following terrible advice to the group: ”I always under promise what I can do. And then I over-deliver. Successful project managers always do this. Surprise your customer by giving more to him/her, and do it earlier than they expect and for less cost. You will be their hero.”
Uh, no, you won't.
In fact, what this relatively inexperienced PM was admitting to is that a) they lie to their customers, and b) they don't deliver to them what they both mutually agreed to and what the customer is paying for.
The Problem With Under-Promising and Over-Delivering
It's not uncommon to see inexperienced project managers promoting the practice of under-promising and over-delivering, but this is actually a harmful approach to project management. And it’s harmful to your career and reputation, too.
Unfortunately, I see this mindset a lot, especially with young project managers. This is a classic trap. These newbies want to impress. They would like to be able to say they came in under budget and earlier than scheduled. So, they under promise on schedules and costs. If a job is estimated to take a month, they tell the customer it will take six weeks. If it's expected to cost $100K, they tell the customer it will cost $125K.
Also, when they do deliver earlier than expected and at lower cost, they strive to hand over extra scope that they created and/or ensure better quality than the customer asked for. Often, they stand back and expect praise and attaboy/girl back-slapping from the customer—but just as often, they’re met with dissatisfaction and ire.
Under-promising and over-delivering is not a good practice. In fact, it's the very definition of bad project management. Sure, if you come in under budget and/or ahead of schedule, great. But never tell your customer a lie about how long something will take or cost up front just so you can look good later. If something is expected to take four weeks. Tell your stakeholders four weeks. Don't tell them five just to give yourself an easier date you can beat. That's wasteful, lying, and basically just poor management.
Similarly, you and your team should never over-deliver scope or quality. If you promised X, then provide X. Not X+. There is no free lunch in a project; to deliver the "+" you had to pay for it somehow, either in terms of dollars, time, or giving up quality or scope elsewhere. This is not what the customer signed up for at the beginning of the project. They asked for X, so it is your duty to give them X. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
The Bottom Line:
One of your responsibilities as a project manager is to be honest, straightforward, and open with your stakeholders. If you can do this, and deliver exactly what was agreed upon, you'll earn the trust and respect of your customers. But if you resort to under-promising (i.e., lying) and over-delivering (i.e., wasting their money), you risk damaging your reputation and ultimately hindering your success in project management.
Always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth at all times. And strive to deliver exactly what you agreed to up front, no more and no less. Do that, and you'll succeed in Project Management. Don't, and your career is likely to be very short.