Welcome to the world of mind games, also known as expectations management. This is like the bread and butter of project management. I bet time and time again, when your relationship with the customer went south or something not so nice happened with your project, you heard the dreaded “you should have managed their expectations” line in your project review meeting with you manager. That’s all very well, but what does it even mean to manage expectations? And why we have to it anyway?
Well, there are a couple of things we must do before we can actually manage any expectation.
First, let’s start with understanding what expectations are. As hard as this will sound, expectations are the primary measure of your success. Your customer will be happy if you came close to their expectation (oh, and the same is true of every other relation in business and life, by the way!). It doesn’t really matter if you fulfilled all the steps of the contract, or if the quality is flawless, it may not even matter an on-time delivery. If you didn’t know and understood your customer’s (and stakeholder’s) expectations, you are likely to count your project a failed one. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that expectations will drive all your customer’s decisions.
“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.” – Elliott Larson
Then, before you can even start managing them, you should actually set expectations. This is the most critical step in the whole process. If you don’t take time to actually set your stakeholder’s expectations, they are going to set them for themselves. And this is not good news, since they can usually set unrealistic expectation formed from anything from the conversations they had with sales, to their own idea of how the project should be managed.
And you cannot know what the expectation setting is unless you capture and monitor expectations. You cannot manage what you don’t monitor, so take the time to listen to your customers and understand where they are coming from.
Finally, and only after you pinpoint expectations, you need to make sure that you play with a certain degree of skill the influencing game. Influencing expectations is what managers mean when they tell you to “manage expectations”. This is the critical part of the process and it takes a clear understanding of “where the customer is coming from”, that is to say, what is their frame of mind, in order to start working towards a common understanding. How you actually influence customer’s expectation will vary according to the situation and your techniques can go from actually educating them on the topic if needed to negotiating a give and take. Whatever you choose, it will have to be done within a framework of understanding and trust, so that both you and your customer can make the best of the situation.
Remember that expectations are your customer’s vision and understanding them is critical for your success (and theirs!). So get cracking!
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That’s all for now, stay tuned for more. 🙂