Express Concerns until Success is Assured...

I once had a guy who worked for me, say: "This project is the best one we've ever done". He made this statement to our CEO during a review meeting.
I silently cringed when I heard this -- not because the execution of the project hadn't been pretty good up to that point -- but instead, because he was just setting himself up for huge criticism if even the smallest thing went wrong. At the same time was receiving very little credit for the brag -- an eye-roll over his stupidity, rather than an 'atta boy.
This incident helped me learn an important work lesson -- it is safer and more prudent to raise issues about any project or activity going on within your area of responsibility, than it is to communicate any certainty of success. There are several reasons for this.
  • Until the project is at its end, unexpected things can happen to derail success. You are better off having people recognize there are risks, than for them to be counting on an easy win. Call it the psychology of disappointment -- it is better to be a last minute hero.
  • If it doesn't look a little bit like a struggle, then you won't get as much credit. Overcoming significant obstacles is more highly valued than cruising across easy finish lines. Perhaps unfair, but definitely human nature.
  • It gives you a platform to show off your thinking and managing skills. Issue -- analysis -- action. Management loves to see this process self-initiated by an employee. Just remember not to stop at the Issue stage.
Yes, there are downsides -- you will sometimes get help you don't want. There will be suggestions from higher up that you know won't work. Often, senior intervention will be clever, but the timing will be bad, causing you to back up and redo something already finished. There might be a resource assigned to "help" that will make the task more difficult, rather than easier. You could even lose the project if you overplay your hand. That's why you should use this technique with a light touch. Use it sparingly, but use it. And never, never, ever brag about work still in progress.
So what happened to the guy and his project? He ran into a problem from an unexpected angle soon after making his famous statement. The problem added huge complexity to the project, increasing costs and delaying it significantly. Eventually the project had to be abandoned. And the CEO brought up the statement made in that review meeting regularly until the employee eventually left the company a couple of years later. It was the impression about that employee that became stuck in his head -- and certainly not the impression he wanted to make...
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