Is it ever okay to lie to a customer? We’ve all seen it happen. It seems easier to simply commit to the impossible and then slip the schedule later than to say no now and take the hit. Sometimes the customer demands to be lied to. How often have we seen a customer that keeps making changes to the requirements until the end but wants the schedule to stay the same. When told that it’s not possible by the project manager, he escalates to the next level of management. They keep escalating until eventually he finds someone in management that says, “Fine. Same schedule”. Even though the schedule will never be achieved, the customer keeps pushing until someone tells him what he wants to hear, even if it’s not the truth.
This starts a dysfunctional communication pattern where we start communicating what’s wanting to be heard instead of what’s true. The motivation of the customer often is to keep the schedule from slipping as little as possible by keeping the schedule always on the impossible side. That way everyone runs completely stressed through the end. Sprinting works fine for short bursts, but never for the full marathon many projects endure. Keeping everyone on tilt makes the project end up taking longer. Moreover, when we force people to tell us what we want to hear, we lose out on hearing the most accurate information that can help us make better decisions.
But once we find ourselves in a rut like this, it can be difficult to change course. They get so used to being told what they want to hear, they stop believing what they’re told even if it’s the whole story, and starts a difficult downward spiral. Similarly, when we keep pushing our employees or our suppliers for what we want to hear, we’ll stop being able to make better decisions for the project. One manager I know rewarded his employees for telling him the bad news because it always illuminated the problems he could help with rather than hoping that everything will just turn out okay.
We need to building trust and allow for disappointment so that we can get things done together.