Article - Should You Lie to Your Customers to Get Them a "Little Bit Pregnant"?


In my consulting and training practice whenever I get to talk to project managers, both experienced and new, the question of whether it pays off to be honest when interacting with your clients always comes up. I usually say that it is much easier to weather the storm at the beginning of the project than to suffer the death of the thousand cuts through the entire duration of the venture.

However, one time an experienced project manager approached me after the session and, with a "wink wink, nudge nudge" look on his face, said the following:

"Oh, c'mon, man like you never lied to your customer in order to get the project off the ground! You know perfectly well, once they get a little bit pregnant, there is no way back for them!"

Once I got over the painful image of "getting my customers slightly pregnant", I remembered the following dialogue I had with my former boss, the director of the IT department at a global bank.

The Story

Director: Hey, I am going to assign you to this new regulatory project. Keep in mind, this is a high-profile endeavour; our main client is the Senior VP of our company. By the way, you should not, he is a very difficult individual. As a matter of fact his nickname in our department is "El Diablo"!

PM: Yes, I have heard about this project. I have spoken to some of our technical people and they have estimated the project to take about nine months ...

Director: Yup, that is another problem. I have personally promised that we would deliver the product in three months

PM: “What?! Three months? But now that he finds out the truth he will be mad!”

Director: “Don’t worry about that. I have a plan. We will proceed by breaking the news to him gradually!”

PM: I really don't think he got to a position of a senior VP of a global bank by being an idiot. Surely he will notice the difference between 3 months and 9 months! Besides, we are going to work with this guy for the foreseeable future; why do you want to spoil the relationship with him?

The Lesson Learned

In fact many people think that by being honest they put themselves at a distinct disadvantage since "everyone else is lying during project negotiations". And putting all the codes of ethics aside, that is true in the short-term:

  • You can obtain a bit of a breathing room by inflating your forecasts
  • You can yield to the pressure and promise to deliver the project faster than humanly possible
  • You can even win the contract by promising to provide the full scope on-time and on-budget when you know in advance that your chances of doing that are zero

But, alas, all these tricks would benefit you only in the short term. In the long term, your reputation as reliable professional and your relationships with customers will inevitably suffer. Your clients - whether external or internal - will be aware of your tendency to inflate the budgets and will cut them accordingly. Your will not be trusted the next time you promise to deliver the project by an important deadline, and your customer will most likely filter you out right the beginning of the tender process.

So, the million-dollar question to ask is:

"If all of these facts are so obvious, then why do we encounter this behaviour time after time?"

My personal view is that unfortunately in today's world many companies think in terms of next quarter's earnings rather than sustainable long-term growth. As Madame de Pompadour once eloquently put it, "Après nous le déluge" .

What do you think?

About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.