The Truth About Under Promising and Over Delivering
Is this a philosophy that will really get you ahead - or backfire on your professional reputation?
"The great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling too short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark." An insightful quote by Michelangelo, who never worked for a corporation, but certainly had some insight that business professionals today should take to heart.
My own thought about this quote is how much it reminds me of the cliché "Under promise, then over deliver!" Which at first glance seems like a reasonable philosophy, perhaps even a wise one. Tell your internal and external clients that a project will take two weeks, when in reality it will only take one week max...and then WOW them when you deliver a week ahead of schedule!
The problem is, it's actually a terrible philosophy when you look at the bigger picture. Ultimately, people will begin to wonder if you are really bad at estimating the amount of time, work, and effort it takes to do a job, which makes you look incompetent. Or, they may have experience that clues them into the fact that the job really shouldn't require an entire week to complete. In other words, it's a cheap shortcut to avoiding the low expectations Michelangelo warns us about...and in the long run, it won't work.
Of course, by the same token it is clearly worse to over promise and under deliver! That one seems so obvious, and yet time after time, I see people being afraid to admit that they are overloaded, that they don't have the appropriate resources, or that the project simply cannot be accomplished in the time set. By under delivering, you demonstrate that you cannot be relied upon, and you have no idea how to budget your time or resources.
So how do you compromise - and set the stage for long term reliability and trustworthiness?
I have found what works for me and my staff is
- knowing your time, resources, and money limitations;
- being straight-forward regarding expectations; and
- having a two-week turnaround time on any given project.
And we always try to anticipate any challenges that we may face in advance so they don't catch us off-guard. I can't overstate the importance of red flagging issues that have a potential to delay projects!
In my opinion, it's better to set appropriate expectations and then commit to hitting your mark every time - which is immensely preferable to being a one hit wonder.