The Disfavor of Doing Favors

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We all have been in the situation where a customer or team member asks to add a feature or upgrade the quality of a certain item. We often agree to do these favors because we find ourselves unable to say “no”—driven by our desire to please or a preconceived notion that we do not have the option to say “no”.

Favors happen on projects because many of us like to help other people. Doing so makes us feel good. It can make us uncomfortable to say no or to make tough decisions. The problem with doing favors is that it can have a domino effect or even start the project on a downward spiral. One favor begets another and before you know it, you have lost control over the project scope, budget, and/or timeline.

The construction industry has made controlling favors an art. Anyone who has ever built a house or has done some remodeling knows that contractors do not do favors. Any requested change is discussed, the work estimated, a cost assigned, and a new timeline approved.

Project managers in other industries would do well to take a lesson from the construction industry. Rather than simply saying no when someone requests favors, make the price tag visible so that the right decisions and tradeoffs can be made. Skillful project management is not about trying to please one person at a time; rather, it is about satisfying the majority of the project stakeholders involved and most importantly to provide customer value. This requires balancing all expectations.

Project management is not a popularity contest.


4 thoughts on “The Disfavor of Doing Favors”

  1. Scott Belanger

    Often the one asking for the “favor” is on the client’s side of the relationship but the requester is not accountable for scope, budget or schedule. Thus granting such favors can be problematic when they impact overall execution. There are, I guess, different types of “favors,” some of which are inconsequential to execution yet can reap benefits in relationship building, and others that are clear opportunities to expand the scope of a project and its funding, which can be beneficial to the executing team – if the customer is managed correctly.

  2. User Avatar

    I think the important point here is to have discipline about how we make our decisions in a project when someone asks us to do a favor. Our responsibility is to do the right thing for the customer and their overall best interest. Saying “yes” because it’s the right thing to do is different than caving in because we can’t bring ourselves to say “no”.

  3. User Avatar

    Hello Pawel,
    A very good point!!
    I agree with your statement that in certain occasions the payback of doing a favor is many times higher than the investment of the favor. Too be honest even in construction industry they do that.

    It all comes down to as you say by evaluating it on a case by case basis. I took the devil’s advocate standpoint above to get people to evaluate the cost of the favors they are doing.


  4. User Avatar

    I wouldn’t be so definite here. I would rather advise we always should estimate both cost and value we get from doing a favor.

    I recall a number of situations when we decided to do a favor on purpose and I’d be far from any regrets. What we lost in a few hours of work we regained with much profit in terms of relationship improvement. And I mean here financial aspects too. In the long run good relationship is worth way more than few man-hours.

    I don’t say to agree for every favor client request but to treat it individually. We don’t just lay bricks down after all.

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