Under-promise to Over-achieve

While I was in a Planning role, I worked with a coworker I’ll call “Mitchell” who wanted me to ensure all of his tasks were baselined in the schedule for as late as possible.  His deliverables were needed around the mid-way point of the project, and he argued he would work toward early dates, but be held accountable to late dates.  Arguably, Mitchell’s rationale was sound: if all his tasks were baselined for the end of the project, he would appear a hero to leadership because everything would be finished early when compared to the baseline.  As this was an Earned Value Project, his Schedule Performance Index (SPI) would be phenomenal, at least until the project reached the baseline period of his tasks.

Although Mitchell’s tasks could not be baselined for the latest possible dates in the schedule, we did baseline them conservatively.  That is, we used generous baseline durations for his tasks, but then adjusted forecast durations to be more aggressive once we had set the baseline in the file.  In fact, the entire team did the same:  baseline conservatively, forecast aggressively.  Both sets of dates met contractual requirements, but given award fee tied to interim milestones, the approach makes a lot of sense.

I recently attended the Project Management Institute’s Leadership Institute Meeting in Phoenix, and listened to remarks from management guru Tom Peters who has written a wealth of books on the topic, including In Search of Excellence.  His PowerPoint support for an hour presentation consisted of only six slides (minus the title slide), upon which was written 42 predictions about management and leadership.  He presented his ideas by stating the current state, and then the future state.  For the purposes of this post, I found number 9 salient:  “Optimistic or bust versus UNDER-promise or bust.”

It’s always a plus when things turn out better than expected.  For example, I would rather mentally prepare for the worst case, and then be pleasantly surprised when my expectations are exceeded.  For example, when I’m waiting for a table, let me know what you think the worst could be:  15 minutes?  30 minutes?  Then if a table opens up after ten minutes – I’m happy.  Even if the table takes 30 minutes to become available, at least I was prepared for the wait.

The same can be applied in Project Management.  We planned for the worst case with generous durations.  Even if risks became problems, we still had a good chance of making our contractual due dates.  But when we were able to exceed customer expectations and deliver early, the customer was incredibly pleased.

Over the next coming weeks I will continue to draw from Mr. Peters’ presentation as inspiration for my posts.  If you would like a copy of it, he provides free access to all of his presentations on his website, hyperlinked above.  Enjoy!

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