Five Ways To Keep Your Promises and Why It’s Good For Business

Montreal Olympic Stadium
The Montreal Olympic Stadium is sometimes referred to as “the Big Owe” for going massively over-budget.
Tolivero CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s not uncommon to hear about civic projects going over budget and over time. These days it’s practically the norm. Companies routinely make promises about what they’re going to deliver, when, and for how much, and then fail to keep those promises.

As a case in point, take the Montreal Olympic Stadium built for the 1976 summer Olympics. Its final price tag ballooned from the promised $148.6 million to more than $3.1 billion, 1,990% more than promised. Work on the stadium’s revolutionary retractable roof – the hallmark of the project – wasn’t even begun until after the Olympics concluded.

To be fair, sometimes these broken promises are not the fault of the companies or the individuals involved. Time and unforeseen events can overtake the best of intentions and undo the most carefully laid plans.

In the case of the Olympic stadium, increases in the costs of raw materials and labor certainly played a part, although there were also allegations of corruption and mismanagement. But whatever the cause, broken promises wreak havoc on a company’s reputation.

You may not be working on a massive civic project worth millions. But if your deliverables don’t meet your promises, your reputation, too, could be tarnished. What can you do to keep your promises?

1 – Set Reasonable Expectations

Put another way, don’t make promises you can’t keep.

This is fundamental.

It can be tempting when asked by a customer if you can provide a certain product or service, to immediately say, “Yes!” Some business coaches and advisors will even tell you to never turn down a challenging assignment. Say “Yes,” first, they tell you, then find a way to make it work.

But what if you can’t find a way to make it work? What if there is no way to make it work?

This does not mean you should never take on a challenge. You’ll never grow to new heights if you don’t reach beyond your present limits. But if you don’t have a realistic plan in place for reaching those new heights, you’ll disappoint, not just yourself, but your customer as well.

2 – Give Yourself A Buffer

Stuff happens. You know how long a project should take. You know how much it should cost. But what if something unexpected happens?

It could be as simple as you or a member of your team getting sick. There could be a power outage. The materials you’re waiting for could fall off the cargo ship. Depending on the nature of your project, any number of events could put you behind schedule or over budget.

Effective project management includes having a buffer.

It’s impossible to foresee every potential setback, but try to factor in those most likely to occur. How much of a buffer you allow will depend on the type of project and the specific tasks involved. How much control do you have over each aspect of the project? Are other people involved and are they reliable? What’s the probability of a particular task failing and what’s the overall impact if it does? What are the historical factors? Has this task failed in the past?

It can be tempting to just give yourself an enormous buffer of time and money. Unfortunately, that can price you out of the market since your competitors may offer to do the project faster for less.

Whatever buffer you allow yourself, don’t fall into the trap of spending it on procrastination. Projects have a tendency of expanding to consume the available resources. You have a buffer in case something goes wrong, not so you can take your time or overspend.

3 – Put It In Writing

Having a realistic project plan with clearly defined commitments and responsibilities is worthless if none of the parties involved know about it. All of the particulars – requirements, schedules, costs, and deliverables – should be clearly specified in writing and provided to everyone involved. This should be part of the contract both you and your client sign before you begin. As the project progresses, update the list and republish it to everyone on the team.

Gantt chart
Gantt charts show the dependency relationships between time, tasks, and resources.

The project plan could include a detailed, color-coded Gantt chart or a comprehensive multi-stage flow chart. You could use a sophisticated cloud-based project management dashboard or a multi-platform, multi-channel collaboration suite. Or you could just email everyone a simple task list with names and dates. What’s appropriate will depend on the scale and scope of your project.

Whatever the form, your plan should be clear enough for everyone to understand, and comprehensive enough to cover all critical aspects of the project.

Putting the plan in writing helps to negate confusion and disagreements. No one on the team should be able to legitimately claim they didn’t know what was going on or what was required of them.

Curiously, some people seem to get annoyed at receiving frequent project updates. Send the updates anyway! These individuals are often the first to complain when the project doesn’t go as they expected.

4 – Clearly Specify What You Require From Your Client And When

Often, your ability to complete a project on time depends upon receiving information or resources from your client. But does your client know that? Do they understand that their project is going to be delayed if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain?

Your project plan, discussed in the previous point, should include your customer’s responsibilities as well as your own.

Perhaps the problem is your client doesn’t understand what you need. Have you given them a clear action list? Does it include tasks, resources, and dates? Have all of the individuals involved received a copy of that list or have access to the project management platform you’re using? Do they understand why you need the requested information or resources?

Wherever possible, arrange to have a single point of contact within your client’s organization. This will allow you to steer clear of your client’s internal management structure. Your project is likely not the sole focus of everyone in your client’s company. They have other work to do and have to juggle conflicting priorities. Unless you’ve been hired as a management consultant, it’s not your job to tell your client or the individuals within their organization how to do their jobs. Make sure your contact knows what you require, and let that person take care of working out how to get it to you.

5 – Conduct A Post-Project Review

Did your project succeed? Did you reach all of your commitments? If so, congratulations!

If not, take the time to find out why. What went wrong? What could you have done differently? How could you have avoided the obstacles, or at least worked through them?

The purpose of this whole-team review is not to point fingers or lay blame. Instead, it’s to improve in your ability to deliver what you promise next time.

And if your project was entirely successful, conduct the review anyway. This will give you an opportunity to prove to your client that your word is good. It will also give you the opportunity to fine-tune your process so you can do even better next time.

Promises Kept Lead To Referrals

A study by Verizon found that 85% of small businesses get customers through word of mouth referrals. Those referrals are not likely to come if you don’t deliver what you promised. Keep your promises and grow your business through referrals.

At LightningStrike Studios, we do our best to keep our promises and have testimonials from many satisfied clients to prove it. For your next communication project, give us a call and let us keep our promises to you.