Under Promise and Over Deliver vs Over Promise and Under Deliver

Which one is best? As Harry Hill would say "There is only one way to find out......Fight!" 

Under Promise and Over Deliver

My initial reaction when I write this is the first, it feels like expectation management 101, by setting a position to stakeholders that you will complete a project on day X knowing that you have some time in the bag or at budget Y with again some financial room to maneuver you are able to delight the sponsor. Right?

On the face of it, it seems that this is logical, but there is a little niggle in the back of my mind saying caution.  Whilst done with the right intentions in mind could this backfire?  

What if the organisation has limited funds to complete projects?  Your additional budget wriggle room you have created that you think you won't need means that another critical project is not initiated, or worse cancelled partway through with already sunk costs.  Or your safe date means that another project dependent on your output misses its opportunity to maximise its impact as everything is set up based on your planned date.

Over Promise and Under Deliver

So if Under Promise is not the answer then overpromising and then cutting back expectations has to be the right thing to do then? Could be?  The tell everyone your timelines will be x, and you can always say "Well something over here impacted on the schedule and was out of our control and you know how projects are?" or there is always more money that can be allocated.

Now this one does not feel remotely correct.  Give everyone the easy happy news until the last minute, not expectation management at all.  Happy path management assuming everything will go to plan or you will be able to force it and if it does not then tough?

This presents organisational problems with potential more far-reaching issues. If you promise a date and other projects or initiatives are dependent on your deliverables you could have a knock-on to multiple projects, not only slipping your own but pushing back others too. Resulting in additional costs and delays.  The financial overpromising could also be critical, all the budget allocated and her you come along, cap in hand asking for more cash, where is it going to come from, cancelling other projects that your organisational strategy is built on, at best your get delays at worst overall additional costs and missed opportunities.

Another Way? 

To me neither of these work, because fundamentally you are not being transparent enough to your organisation to allow proper planning.  You will note that I did not use the word contingency in the above paragraphs and that was intentional as I believe that adding contingency into a plan or a budget is the right thing to do as long and you understand the drivers behind those contingent items.  

The risks should be reflected,  maybe your widget supplier is notoriously late with shipments near Christmas, so you put in a time allowance for the slippage. Maybe the team developing your latest piece of code has said they have lots of commitments and your work may need to be done in overtime but they will try not to, so put some extra budget in for the overtime.

Then the next thing is to share these contingent views with your sponsors and stakeholders, you cannot control how they react, they may tell you that you need to take out all the contingency and plan for happy path.  As a project manager, you will then have to use those wonderful persuasive people skills to convince them otherwise.  They may take it as it is and help mitigate those risks.

All the best 


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