The concept of under promising and over delivering in the management of projects and in consulting engagements is a widely held tradition among many consulting organizations. As I’ve described in the first two parts of this blog post, I’ve come to believe for myself that this technique borders on the fraudulent. What’s wrong with just stating what you’re going to do, and then doing it? No subterfuge of holding back the full scope. No “delighting” the client by “over delivering” what you truthfully owed the client in the first place. Just agree with the client what needs to be done, provide solid estimates, and do it.
My wife’s family and my family loved their family traditions – especially traditions around the Christmas holidays. When we became parents we started our own Christmas family traditions. And now that we’re grandparents, and our married children and our grandchildren live in the same city as we do, we’re adding to those traditions.
My wife is Scandinavian. The Norwegian half of her family passed several ethnic foods down through the generations. One of my sons-in-law also has Norwegian heritage. So, this year we thought it would be fun to add a Norwegian flatbread called lefse to our traditional Christmas family dinner. It was to be made from scratch. My wife found her grandmother’s recipe. My son-in-law brought over his grandmother’s lefse-making tools. And a new tradition was born.
Somewhere in the middle of all of the rolling of dough, scattering of flour, and baking of the lefse on the griddle, our five-year-old granddaughter became very interested in what was happening. Perhaps it was the call of her ancient Norwegian roots. She pulled a stool up to the cupboard, asked her uncle for a lump of lefse dough, and proceeded to roll out the finest flatbread of the day. Her uncle, my son-in-law, using the special lefse stick, carefully lifted her masterpiece onto the griddle. Time after time she repeated the process; and time after time her lefse turned out even better than the adults’. Her fine black silk dress was soon covered in white flour; but the smile on her face told the whole story.
No, I don’t turn every life event that happens to me or that I observe into a lesson on the human aspects of project management; but permit me a little license with this story. It was refreshing to watch that five-year-old girl observe, contemplate her own abilities, and then screw up her courage to try something that even the adults were having difficulty with. No under promising; just delivery. In fact, no promises at all; just performance. She watched, took the initiative, and proceeded to delight her customer (her Grampsie!).
Lessons from a five-year-old: accepting prudent risk and delivering what the client asked for is far more effective than that tired old tradition of under promising and (falsely) over delivering.
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