This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services
If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are
published, please send an email to
and we will add you to our distribution list. Comments and suggestions are
welcome and encouraged!
Promises and Delivery
By Tom Dennis Ė
President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
Who do you respect more? Someone who promises and delivers, or
someone who promises and fails to deliver? Obviously, someone who promises
and delivers. How about between someone who under-promises and over-delivers
versus someone who over-promises and under-delivers? Your immediate reaction
would likely favor someone who under-promises and over-delivers, but it
really isnít so clear. It depends on how much is under-promised versus how
much is over-delivered, or in the other option, on how much is over-promised
versus how much is under-delivered. In both of the latter two cases, it also
depends on the stream of excuses you can expect to receive, and on how many
you will tolerate. The excuses can absolutely drive you to distraction!
Weíll go into all of these scenarios.
Letís start with the person who simply promises and delivers, consistently
and repeatedly. What does this mean? This is someone who says what he means
(his promises), means what he says (his integrity), and does what he says
heíll do (his delivery). [See Say
What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say Youíll Do!]
This is typically a person who doesnít even think about the possibility of
over- or under-promising; he just promises what he realistically and capably
can do, and does it. This is a person who you can trust! [See
Trust Me, Iím Not Like
the Others!] When you have someone like this in your
organization, you have a real gem, and this is a gem you should treasure.
This is a gem who others should emulate and admire. No muss, no fuss, no
excuses. He just does the job at the high level of ability he knows he
has, and consistently delivers on his promises! Build your organization
around this person and encourage your other people to follow his example.
Next, letís look at the person who under-promises and over-delivers:
ē One variation of under-promise/over-deliver is the person who
under-promises slightly, but who is confident he can at least deliver on his
promises, and in all likelihood deliver more. This can be a good person to
have, if the under-promises are not far off the mark of what is being asked,
and if the over-delivery is consistently more than what has been promised.
However, this person should be encouraged to understand and appreciate what
he really can do, and move toward the model of the person who simply
promises and delivers, and away from under-promising and over-delivering,
and the potential excuses that can come along with that.
ē Another variation of under-promise/over-deliver is the person who
consistently and substantially under-promises, knowingly low balling what he
can deliver precisely so he can deliver more to look good, or to be seen as
a workplace hero (see
Munchausen-by-Proxy in the Workplace). By consistently
under-promising, this person helps to make his workload lighter, often to
the detriment of others who are asked to take on more to handle what this
person says he canít do. When this person then over-delivers, his intent is
to look better in comparison to those who had to take on even more than
their normal workload due to this personís under-promising. When
intentional, this under-promise/over-deliver variation can be subversive and
conniving, and can significantly erode the morale and performance of the
group as a whole. This person needs to be called out on such unacceptable
behavior, either by his managers or by his co-workers who are suffering from
such intolerable behavior.
Finally, letís look at the person who over-promises and under-delivers:
ē One variation of over-promise/under-deliver is the person who
over-promises slightly, often out of a positive can-do attitude to help to
the maximum amount possible, but who then finds it difficult or impossible
to deliver on all that he has promised. This personís heart is generally in
the right place, but he needs to more realistically assess what is really
possible, and temper what is truly possible to deliver. As with the first
under-promise/over-deliver variation above, this person can be a valuable
member of a team, and, with time, can also be moved toward the model of the
person who simply promises and delivers, and away from over-promising and
under-delivering, and the potential excuses that can come along with that.
This person should be coached on how to properly and realistically estimate
what he can actually deliver.
ē Another variation of over-promise/under-deliver is the person who
consistently and substantially over-promises, whether knowingly or not.
- In the most positive case, this is simply an overly optimistic team member
who doesnít really have a clue on how to estimate his/her capabilities or
how long it realistically takes to accomplish specific tasks. This person
needs a crash course on how to realistically assess what can and cannot be
done in specific timeframes. In the meantime, other teammates will pay the
price for this personís poor estimation skills by helping take on this
personís under-estimated work.
- In the most negative case, this may be a person who, for whatever reason,
purposely sets out to sabotage a project by virtually guaranteeing that
critical deliveries are missed, potentially killing the project entirely and
significantly damaging the company, its reputation, and its customers. It is
critical to ferret out such a person as early as possible, and get this
person out of your organization, and preferably out of the company.
Virtually everyone who is involved in a project must make promises on what
they can and will do, knowing they will be measured by their ability to
deliver on their promises. For a team to be truly effective, their promises
need to be truly realistic, neither under-promising nor over-promising. They
then need to consistently deliver on their promises. The role of an
effective manager is to help them achieve this result, coaching those who
need help, removing those who seek to disrupt, and rewarding those who
consistently promise and deliver.
Copyright © 2011
Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved