In the first three parts of this blog posts, I’ve been critical of a technique often used in the management of projects and in consulting engagements – a technique which under promises to the client and subsequently delivers more than was promised. My major objection to this practice is that it is often used to underplay what is truly owed to the client in the first place, and then when something additional is delivered, there is an expectation that the client will be delighted. In my mind, there are two significant negatives to this practice. For the client, it receives the basics (perhaps bare minimum) of what was contracted, with little value added. For the project management or consulting organization, it remains safe within the confines created by under promising and thereby stifles its own growth.
However, there are times when this concept can be useful. When the under promise is truly something to which the client is not entitled or which the client is not expecting, and there is a way to provide that item over and above what the client is expecting, then over delivery happens and the client is legitimately delighted.
For example, suppose your organization is contracted to deliver a custom developed software application. During the project delivery, you substitute Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) software for an entire subsystem for much less cost than would have been required to build it. In the client’s mind, substituting the COTS for your team’s effort feels like you under promised (remember, I’m from the world of fixed price delivery). That is, until you are able to show the client that the COTS software can be maintained entirely by end-users, thus making the long-term cost of ownership negligible in comparison to the cost of maintaining custom developed software. What the client initially considered an under promise has in fact become over delivery, and true value-add by your organization.
Notice the difference in this example from ones provided in the first three parts of this post. In this example there is no thought given to the ruse of under promising what the client may be entitled to in the first place, and then providing it (or some portion of it) to make it look like you are over delivering. No, if the technique of under promising/over delivery is used, it must be to the benefit of both parties, and not as some subterfuge to fool the client into thinking that it’s getting more than it was expecting.
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