A few weeks ago–September 5 to be exact–I ordered myself a shiny new car.

The experience went along these lines. First, I did lots of research and decided on my ideal vehicle make and model. Then, I went to the only dealership in my city that sells this type of car.

I met one of the salespeople, we took it for a drive, I looked at all the options and discussed all the features, and pretty much made up my mind. This process took a few visits, and then we got down to negotiating the two big questions: cost and delivery date.

Those of you who’ve worked in the Web for some time will have become accustomed to expecting everything instantly, as I have; however, when we reached this stage, the salesman had some bad news.

He first started by saying that it could take anywhere from two to six months to take delivery of the car, depending on the model and options that I decided on. After a few phone calls, he was pleased to announce that he’d found the exact model and options I wanted on the other side of the country, and that he could offer me a six-to-eight week window for delivery.

I was crestfallen–I wanted the car right then, or next week at the latest. Then I realized this really did boil down to just my own impatience. I decided to go ahead with the purchase anyway, given that I was already in love with the features and the idea of driving the car, and placed my order.

I’ve been thinking about this experience over the last few weeks, in terms of what a close analogy this situation offers to most web site projects. I’m talking about the common scenario where the client (in this case, myself) becomes sold on the concept of you doing the work, loves the options you’ve offered them, and they want the finished product right now–but of course, it’s impossible to have that site or feature built until after their ideal deadline.

I felt for the poor sales guy at the dealership, who could see my disappointment, and resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t be getting behind the wheel of this vehicle until mid-to-late October.

So you can imagine my delight when I got a call last Friday to say I could pick the car up the following Tuesday, only three-and-a-half weeks after I placed the order!

Not only has it made me super-pleased with the product, but very appreciative towards the sales guy and the dealership. The cynic in me wonders if perhaps they always intended to have the car sooner, but they always add some leeway to their timelines, just in case.

The result of this situation is that they have broken their own promised deadline by weeks, and their business now has a very big fan. With that in mind, look at your own projects–how hard would it be for you to add a few weeks or a month to the deadlines you promise, and then work hard as you can to meet the original date anyway?

We’ve all heard that cliché about under-promising and over-delivering, but when you’re the client, it certainly feels like a great result! Try this theory with your next project, and let me know how it goes–I’m very confident that your next client will become your biggest fan if you manage to deliver quicker than planned.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 416 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I was co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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