Under promise and over deliver

Janet Arrowood

The business world is filled with examples of failed projects, incomplete buildings, overambitious proposals and schedule delays.

Why do these situations occur, and how can they be minimized? Problems arise when a bidder, producer or service provider promises more than they can deliver in the allotted time. The solution is simple. Under promise and then over deliver.

What are some of the ways to under promise and over deliver?

Know your limitations. If you try to break into a new business area or start to work with a new client, acknowledge at least to yourself your weaknesses and plan budgets and schedules accordingly. If you segue from providing a product or service to small businesses to becoming a government supplier, be careful what sort of schedule to which you commit. Things you could accomplish or deliver quickly in the hands-on world of small business clients can take much longer under a government contract. Ask others who’ve worked with government clients what sort of obstacles and delays they encountered and factor that into to your plan or proposal.
If you finish as scheduled or on budget, great. But by considering your new client, you could promise a certain schedule or budget and then perform better. Clients like those results.

Remain realistic. If, for example, you’re a custom home builder and could complete a house in less than six months, consider the shortage of skilled trades. You might have a regular crew, but circumstances could change. Someone could quit or be hired away. They could get sick or injured. They might not show up as scheduled. If you develop a schedule that allows for these situations and you have few or no problems, you could complete the house sooner and possibly under budget. But if things don’t run like clockwork, you’ve allowed for that in your schedule and budget, so the client is satisfied.

Understand and accept that many times you might not be the least expensive provider, so focus instead on being the best. If your hourly rate is higher than that of a competitor, provide examples of how you work quickly, gaining the client valuable time at the end to make changes or get merchandise out sooner.
If someone charges $60 an hour for something and you charge $100 an hour, demonstrate you’re able to deliver in less time than the competitor with the lower rate. Time  —for changes, reaction, planning or anything else — is the one product that can’t be manufactured. But time can be saved and put to better use.

Most of the time, there’s no extra compensation for completing a project or delivering a product ahead of schedule — at least not in monetary terms. But when you write a proposal and list your past performance, the ability to boast you finished a project or delivered a product ahead of schedule, under budget and with no safety issues can be a critical differentiator. Remind your references so they can provide those critical details to the reference checkers.

Gaining a reputation for delivering more than you promised or providing the product or service more quickly or at a lower cost is something no amount of experience can buy. You simply have to do it and let your success speak for itself.