Promise & Deliver

There’s some general advice you may have heard before: “Always under-promise and over-deliver.” The idea is that you should commit to less than you’re capable of, and then surprise people by doing more than was expected.

I disagree with the advice.

Now, some parts of that philosophy are sound. You shouldn’t over-promise. You shouldn’t commit to more than you can handle, and then fall short. And you shouldn’t deliver less than you promised in any circumstance, as long as you can avoid it.

But the “under-promise/over-deliver” strategy doesn’t sit well with me. First, it’s inherently dishonest, something I don’t like. You’re not really being an awesome performer at your job or task, you’re just tricking people into thinking you are by artificially lowering their expectations. Second, it can backfire spectacularly – without even realizing it, you can get into a sort of mental arms race with the people who you’re promising to, as they start to realize that you frequently deliver better results than you promised to they adjust their requests accordingly.

In my view, it’s far better to get really good at “calling your shot.” Being very accurate at predicting what you can deliver, how long it will take, what the budget will be, and so on will make you a real rock star. It makes you reliable, trustworthy. Someone that can be counted on. That’s much better than being an unreliable-but-occasional “miracle worker.”

I also prefer to be taken seriously whenever possible. A history of accuracy helps that. If you’ve under-promised and over-delivered a dozen times or more, then when you say you can finish a project in a week, people start pushing back on that. They challenge whether you can get it done in four days, three, two. Can you do it with fewer resources, etc. Now you’re just wasting time and effort defending your predictions instead of being able to let your history do the talking.

Promise what’s reasonable, and then deliver what you promised. Everyone’s better off.

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