December 25, 2011
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I was part of an interview panel recently to employ a new Project Manager. Interview was iterating towards a good outcome and we started discussing the philosophy of project delivery. The specific phrase that came up was the often used under promise, over deliver and it’s appropriateness. It was a very interesting discussion, one that I thought I’d share.
The classic reason Project Managers try to under promise and over deliver is to mitigate risk. Once bitten, twice shy. This approach has come from project managers who have been burned by failing to control expectations with their stakeholders. The reason for this failure may have been varied – from unrealistic targets or unreasonable stakeholders. Whatever the case, minimizing impact on the project is the prime concern for them and has led to this approach finding a strong foothold. Perception is reality in IT service delivery. If the stakeholder’s expectations are being met, usually they’ll consider the project value for money.
While this provides for a level of Cover from risk, it goes against open and transparent communication. All the interaction is between competent professionals. This level of communication gap should not be desirable. In saying that the Project Managers currently intentionally setting lower expectations have at one point tried that. Is that an indication that open communication is an aspiration that can never be reached?
I find this all depends on the maturity of all the stakeholders. How you communicate to them usually mirrors how you communicate with your family. There are those family members who are mature enough and you can call a spade a spade. With them, you can aspire to have a transparent communication channel. Set the expectations and if something is to go south, explain the reasons and how the course will be altered to meet the best outcome. There are always some in the family who really care, but don’t get it. In stakeholder terms it is really important to keep on-side, but you probably want to ensure a need to know information flow only. Then there are the in-laws, who you never seem to be able to win over come what may. This is the audience where under promise and over deliver is an entirely valid strategy.
Aspire to openness as the first choice. But be prepared to alter strategy depending on the interest, influence and nature of the stakeholder.