a couple of years ago

How To Master the Art of Managing Expectations: Under-Promise and Over-Deliver!

The more I grow the more I realize that most things in life are counter-intuitive. Learning Kung Fu is a good example: in order to increase my power and strength, I must learn how to relax and let my energy flow through my body from my legs to my arms. More power comes from less tension. Any sort of tension diminishes my potential. What is the connection with business?

Today I wanted to give you a challenge: in order to do more, focus on doing less! In order to exceed expectations, promise less. This is the art of managing expectations.

I remember being on a call once, discussing about the delivery of a specific project for interfacing our ERP systems with a third party. This project was really beneficial for the business and I was willing to do whatever it takes to move forward. So when I was asked when I could deliver the project charter for the team to get started on it, I committed to the most optimistic timeframe I had in mind. After the call, my manager came to me and said: “you are now setting yourself for a hard time: we know the timeline you gave is idealistic, assuming that everything goes right and that you get all the resources you need when you need it. Next time you should decrease your estimate to 70% of what you think you can do. When you deliver at 80% or above, you will exceed people’s expectations”.

When writing this now, it seems so obvious and basic, but I can promise you that at the time it wasn’t for me, and that it felt wrong and un-sensible to under-promise. But I went ahead and adopted this new technique, willing to test it out. What a difference it made! Not only was I feeling more confident about my chances to deliver on time, but I could also increase the quality of my work with the extra time I allowed for myself, and yet still have a chance to positively surprise people’s expectations!

The major challenge you will face is the fear that by committing to 70% of what you can do, people may consider you as an under-achiever. But that is absolutely not the case, actually only 2 things can happen:

  • People either accept your timelines and align their individual expectations accordingly
  • Or people will challenge you on your estimates. In that case, as you started at 70%, you will probably end up with 75% or 80% and still have contingency

This “under-promise and over-deliver” mentality is widely used in the world, see for example the Apple UPOD strategy:

  1. Sets expectations lower so that the delivered products exceed expectations.
  2. Helps to avoid tipping off competitors.
  3. Helps to avoid shareholder disappointment and lawsuits.
  4. Enables Apple to gauge any negative reactions to the under-promised products.
  5. Allows the company to respond to these reactions by improving the products before they are actually delivered.
  6. Generates far more excitement and publicity when the products beat expectations.
  7. Quiets detractors.

If you want to know more, you can check a 7 min talk from Mike Michalowicz here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=senQCWfbMTI

You can also get more details in Richard Templar’s book “The Rules of Work”.


Next time someone asks you to deliver something, estimate how much time or money it would take you, and deliberately reduce your estimate to 70% of what you wanted to respond. Learn the art of managing your expectations!


For more information, check out my full training course on People Management and Corporate Leadership.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment, I will respond!