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No can do

In 1993, in pursuit of a large and significant business contract, we travelled to Detroit, to meet with a 5 member team at Visteon. It was a division of Ford motor Company. 

Discussions concluded favourably. Both parties were in agreement on everything, except the time frame for development and delivery of samples. They demanded that we deliver in 8 weeks, and we insisted on 14 weeks. It looked like the deal was going to fall through.

My export manager took me aside, "Sir we can't afford to lose this order. Please, I implore you to agree to whatever they demand and bag the order. We can always make some excuse and come back later and and ask for a time extension."

I knew we could do it in 8 weeks, but past experience taught me that developments projects tend to encounter delays and one should always provide for the unexpected, and in India the variables were simply too many. I decided to shave the safety margin from 6 weeks to 3 weeks. 

I said, "Gentlemen, the best we can do is 11 weeks". 
The Visteon team leader, said, "No it's got to be 8 weeks and that is the best I can give you".

Finally with an air of resignation I responded, "I am sorry Sir,  if you insist on 8 weeks we might have a problem".

The buyer a 6 ft plus giant of a man said in exclamation "Mr. Singh!" as he slammed both his hands on the conference table and shot straight up from his chair, towering over me. It appeared I had blown it and lost the chance to win the order.

Then his face broke into a large grin and he offered me his hand for a handshake and said, " Mr. Singh, I have had numerous encounters with people from your country and they always tell me _no problem, no problem_, but you know, we always encounter problems. You are the first person from India who says he might have a problem. I like it, that you are realistic and honest about commitments. Let's do business together."


As owner and head of my own manufacturing organisation, I have had to face numerous embarrassments because of failed commitments. Commitments made by me or members of my team.

We all face this problem. Colleagues, subordinates or even we ourselves fail to deliver on commitments. Monday comes and goes and then another Monday passes by as we fail to deliver. We land up with muck on our face and our reputations. We lose both our money and our sanity along with our reputation.

Failure often occurs due to bad or no planning. Failing to plan is planning to fail.Here is an approach that worked for us.

It appears that one of the most difficult thing for most people is to sit through, think intensely and plan out things. Thinking, analysing, planning are the bane of most humans because it is intellectually demanding, pretty tiring and often quite boring.

Most commitments are made based on a cocktail of optimism, hunches and guesstimates. In 90% of the cases there is no underlying plan. 

Do not accept commitments on face value. Demand to look into the underlying assumptions and planning. The devil is in the underlying detail. No details means the commitment stands on a weak foundation.

Verbal plans are unacceptable,  A documented plan based on assumptions, logic, and responsibility is a must. Who does what, where, when, why and how must be crystal clear.

All responsible people must be consulted and they should confirm their acceptance and commitment to the plan in writing. People are more careful when they have to sign off on a document

Assuming that you have competent people, simply support the team with necessary resources and then get out of the way. But keep an eye on the ball. Review frequently. Remember that,  "What is not reviewed is not done"

Effective planning makes life so much easier. Before we started this approach our ON TIME SUCCESS rate was 24% and within 3 years it had reached 97%.  The situation should appear like a duck in the water - Serene and calm on the surface but paddling hard below the water.


  1. Ajay Dharmadikari said

    I think this is a very correct approach to do as this will grow the business.

    My experience shows we always give wrong commitment to precious client under the fear of loosing orders & business.

    Unfortunately there are very few people who understand the importance of planning as well as scheduling working towards correct output of the efforts invested for desired thing.

    I like this blog, please keep educating us.

  2. Tirtharaj Khot said;

    Another wonderful piece GS......... Thanks as always


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