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This Is Why Your Project Manager Lies To You

January 4, 2018

I was working on a large project. We were moving thousands of users from one phone system to another. In the venacular of IT, at least the marketers, we were moving “to the cloud.” That’s a huge oversimplification, but the same folks named the project “VoIP” which was an even worse simplification.

The point is that we were moving off a dedicated PBX, or Public Business Exchange to a virtual one. A PBX is basically a network server for your business phones. A PBX is not cheap. And while my project was moving agents off the PBX, there were other projects in the company that were eyeing that PBX with greedy eyes.

Rodney, when do you think you will be done with PBX09? Just a ballpark estimate.

I’ve been a project manager for a long time. I knew exactly what this call was about. And I was prepared to lie. Not a vicious, self-serving lie. More like a “I know we’re going to have this conversation again and I want to have some buffer” kind of lie.

We’ll probably be completely off by February 1st.

Great. That’s all I needed. We’re just trying to plan future project. You know how it is.

Sure. Glad to help.

It was three weeks later when I got the next phone call.

Yeah, I know you said February 1st. I’m just curious if there is any way that we could move that date back at all? Just curious.

I knew I was still going to lie.

I could probably be done by Monday, January 29th.

Hey, that’s great. It will really help us out if we could go earlier.

Happy to help.

Two weeks later I got the actual important call. The one where was planning to tell the truth.

Hey, Rodney. Yeah, we’ll take whatever we can get, but if we can get into this PBX earlier, it’s a difference of about a million dollars one way or the other.

Well, we are scheduled to be have everyone off by January 24th. Typically we have a few stragglers that still have issues, but we could give you access as early as the 25th, but I’d like to have through Friday. Then, you can have it starting on Saturday.

That will really help us out. Even those extra couple of days will make a huge difference. I really appreciate it.

Happy to help.

So, why didn’t I just tell him January 25th on the first call? Why dance this back and forth? Because, everybody does it. If I’d given the 25th as the date when I was first contacted, I would spend the next two calls, and weeks explaining that no, I really cannot go earlier. I would have to say no. And I would have to say it often.

This way, I get to say yes. And the person I was talking to wasn’t the final person in our literal game of “telephone.” Someone was asking him when they could have the PBX. Because I gave myself a 10 day buffer when we first talked, he gets to look like a hero to his clients. Initially he told them that they could have their $1,000,000 piece of hardware on February 1. Undoubtably they were pressing him for earlier dates as well. This way he also gets to look like a hero.

Like I said, I’ve been a project manager for a long time.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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