PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > Oh, You Shouldn't Have!

Oh, You Shouldn't Have!

By Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP

It's the season of giving. As we gather with friends, family and co-workers, gifts are exchanged and the spirit of the holidays kicks in. Invariably, someone utters the phrase ...

Oh, you shouldn't have!

Maybe they are right. (Fear not, there's a clear project management tie-in in a minute.)

We sometimes strive to give until it hurts, getting people more than they want or need. And when they tell us we shouldn't have, they may be in earnest. They might mean it. It's too much. Or it's something that they didn't really want in the first place.

They throw in the occasional "extra" to generate customer delight. That's not where customer delight is rooted.

Welcome to project management. I firmly believe that project managers work "in earnest." They believe in what they do and have the client's best interest at heart. They genuinely strive to provide the client with the best possible experience. And in doing so, they throw in the occasional "extra" to generate customer delight. That's not where customer delight is rooted. You shouldn't have.

Stopping the Temptation

There's an extraordinary temptation to provide little extras. They provide temporary gratification for all parties involved. But it's temporary. The more little extras we throw into a project, the more the client comes to expect them. The more they come to expect them, the more we have to provide. It's a spiral. It's not healthy.

We can make it healthy, however, in a few simple steps. (And you'll find they're eerily akin to how we should handle overdoing it for the holidays.)

The keys are to --

  • Know and share where the original norms are established
  • Identify clear rationale and criteria for going overboard
  • Establish the limits beyond the norms

Know and Share

One of the best companies I worked for had a clear limit of $10 for presents in their "Secret Santa" program. Because that was so limited, they also encouraged the very simple behavior of doing one's holiday best. Doing your holiday best meant that you would do your regular job to absolute perfection. You would work well with your peers. You would do what you could to facilitate their efforts in the day-to-day of the job. The intriguing result was that people would be constantly complimenting their peers for their performance, to which the response was "I was just doing my job."

People embraced normal behavior as admirable. They embraced the notion that the tasks normally seen as quotidian were actually high value and appreciated. It changed the tone of the ordinary. You were no longer just doing your job (even though you were). You were at your "holiday best."

Identify Rationale and Criteria

Some gifts are totally unwelcome. Giving the customer "extras" means that we better be giving them extras for the right reasons at the right time, and we had better be providing something they truly value. When one of my old "beater" cars went into the shop for a water pump, the mechanic noted that I hadn't changed the oil in over 80,000 miles. "No," I replied, "I just keep adding more."

As a kindness, he changed the oil at no charge. He said he couldn't stand the sight of the sludge.

I really didn't want the oil changed. I believed (and still believe) it was holding that old car together. His kindness meant that the car's engine smoked for the first time in my history with it. It never really ran well again.

Before we go giving holiday extras, we need to ask the clients and our friends if they would mind if we threw in a little extra. We need to let them know why we're doing it. And they need to know that we expect nothing in return. That's what gifts are all about. It's a potentially awkward moment, but it's worth it. They may indicate rules and regulations that limit them. They may identify their inability to handle the change. We may stop the gift-giving train before it leaves the station.

Establish the Limits

This ties directly to our tolerances. We need to know the limits. Giving a fruit basket harvested from your own trees is one thing. Giving a new module to an application in development is another. The easiest way to ask the question is by revealing it early. Before you even begin development of that new module, ask how they would react if you plugged in a new module at no charge. The answer may surprise you. In many instances, the reply will simply be "no."

They'll be perfectly content with the original game plan, delivered at your holiday best.

And the beauty is that you've let them know just how much you care, and how far you're willing to go, but you didn't provide them with a gift they really can't use.

Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP is a project manager and trainer who wishes the absolute holiday best to you and yours. He welcomes your comments at carl@carlpritchard.com




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