The Extra Effort

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.”
-– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

There is an interesting research published recently in Social Psychological and Personality Science, "Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking Versus Exceeding Promises".

It describes research into how promises and contracts are viewed by people, especially how their completion is perceived and how people are likely to react to under- and over-delivering on promises as compared to delivering on exactly what was agreed upon.

"Businesses may work hard to exceed their promises to customers or employees, but our research suggests that this hard work may not produce the desired consequences beyond those obtained by simply keeping promises. [...] The results of our experiments suggest that it is wise to invest effort in keeping a promise because breaking it can be costly, but it may be unwise to invest additional effort to exceed one’s promises. When companies, friends, or coworkers put forth the effort to keep a promise, their effort is likely to be rewarded. But when they expend extra effort in order to exceed those promises, their effort appears likely to be overlooked."

This somewhat confirms what I have experienced during my career when it comes to delivering software. It is the single most important thing to deliver what was originally agreed upon in a working state. A solution with the minimal level of features that each does only exactly what was agreed upon is in most cases much better received than a solution that has a bunch of bells and whistles even though both solutions deliver equally reliable software on the exact same promise.


Deliver only what was agreed on and at the right time. Nothing more, nothing less. Never mention any bonus features but consider saving any that may have been implemented as a free surprise a few weeks after a successful delivery on the initial contract.

Publication information:

Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking Versus Exceeding Promises

Ayelet Gneezy and Nicholas Epley
Social Psychological and Personality Science published online 8 May 2014
DOI: 10.1177/1948550614533134


Promises are social contracts that can be broken, kept, or exceeded. Breaking one’s promise is evaluated more negatively than keeping one’s promise. Does expending more effort to exceed a promise lead to equivalently more positive evaluations? Although linear in their outcomes, we expected an asymmetry in evaluations of broken, kept, and exceeded promises. Whereas breaking one’s promise is obviously negative compared to keeping a promise, we predicted that exceeding one’s promise would not be evaluated more positively than merely keeping a promise. Three sets of experiments involving hypothetical, recalled, and actual promises support these predictions. A final experiment suggests this asymmetry comes from overvaluing kept promises rather than undervaluing exceeded promises. We suggest this pattern may reflect a general tendency in social systems to discourage selfishness and reward cooperation. Breaking one’s promise is costly, but exceeding it does not appear worth the effort.

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