Urquhart's Avoidance and product futures

I give a lot of product briefings, and of course often get caught between what I know and what I can say. In these cases I often find it useful to use Urquhart's Avoidance, made famous in the BBC miniseries "House of Cards" (which I highly recommend):

"You might very well think that; but I couldn't possibly comment"

However, for those times when I honestly cannot answer, I have to share the general "why": the laws of space and time still apply in Redmond. If you've ever been on a software project, you know that work always expands to fill the available time, and inevitably features have to be cut. The problem is that fuzzy area where developers are working furiously and there's still a chance to get stuff in the box, but deadlines are looming. That's when we get into the area where features may or may not be on the chopping block and we are stuck with a Catch-22:

  • Don't mention a feature and possibly risk alienating people who would want it
  • Mention the feature (which is always interpreted as a solid commitment) and earn a wealth of unhappiness if it's cut.

So we learn to be very conservative on forecasting features, especially those that may be at risk.

Just wanted to let you know - we don't do it to toy with you on purpose. That's just a fringe benefit.