- by David, Q Is For Quality, Quiram.
Managing expectations; It sounds like such a parental thing to do. But the truth is that we have our expectations managed all day long...while driving to work there are dynamic billboards that inform us how much traffic is ahead to manage our expectations for the drive. TV ads manage our expectations for products, and we do it in our everyday conversations. So why is it such a problem to do with clients and staff?
Managing expectations is a skill that is learned through experience. Essentially you have to have some good wins and make some horrendous mistakes in order to really understand how to do it correctly. We do it all the time, but not everyone does it well.
Most people set expectations in one form or another for tasks and projects. That is the easy part, where the ball gets dropped is monitoring the expectations and influencing them as they change. After you set the basic expectations for a project, you will find that dynamism of reality will rear its ugly head and the project plan starts to deviate. The project may take longer, cost more, or just not be completed. If you communicate to the client the status of a project honestly and timely, you will be managing their expectations. You can address concerns through communication and influence their expectations.
Six Tips for Managing Expectations
1. Know what you can do.
Having a realistic view of what you can provide is important. If you "enhance" your capabilities and knowledge to the client, and then fail to demonstrate yourself to those set levels, you essentially failed and lowered your integrity with the client. By setting realistic expectations to your capabilities you are establishing a good ground work for the project and relationship with the client.
2. Set the expectations clearly.
When you are working with the client defining the expectations for a project, make sure you are understood and you understand what the client wants. Do not assume that the client understands your position just because they agree. Define the expectations for the project and how the project status and success will be measured. Everyone involved should ideally understand what each other expects out of the project and how to measure the success of the project. This may seem like boring meetings or a bit over the top, but invest the time in at the beginning, and you will make it easier to manage the expectations as you proceed, having an understanding of what they really are.
3. Explain, explain, explain...then pop quiz.
The client needs to have an understanding of what you are doing and why. By understanding they will see the value in the process and not just another reason to bill. This doesn't mean you show them what to click on in the install process. But it might be a good idea to go over why there are two engineers working on the same server. By understanding the process they will also see the time involved with the process and that the tasks are not quick things to check off. Get the client's buy-in to the process by providing an opportunity for them to learn about it. Then when things change in the timeline, resources, or budget, it will be easier to manage the expectations as you will have developed a framework for them to place the changes in the project.
4. Don't promise the moon, but deliver it.
I see a lot of angst with project expectations with the client being promised that the project will end all their troubles, when in fact it is geared to address a single issue. Engineers usually blame the Sales team for over promising and Sales tends to blame the Engineers for under delivering. In truth both are wrong. When setting the project expectations with the client you first need to be realistic to what you can deliver and make sure that it is understood by your teams first, then the client. Be on the same page. This will save moral, face, and get you other work. If you set the expectations conservatively there is the room for the unexpected disruptions and room to excel the expectations. Both are wins as it will make the client happy.
5. Avoid the awkward "Yeah...about that goal.." moment.
Clients hate surprises...it leads to awkward moments and ruined reputations on all sides. You should never surprise a client with a key deliverable failure. These deliverable failures sometimes happen; it is a fact of projects. However you can manage the client’s expectations by monitoring the progress of the project. Reporting progress, wins, and challenges to the client will manage the client’s expectations as things happen. Make sure to set up the communications and reporting protocols early on to foster this ongoing expectation management.
6. Talk, talk, talk, - listen, listen, listen.
With any relationship, communication is the key to success. Communicate early and often: and if in doubt, communicate some more. Make sure what you are trying to get across is understood by listening to the client. Listening to the client says and doesn't say will also help you understand what they are expecting and thinking. The key for clarity is to have a single point of contact for the clients to interface with your team. This will allow you to control the comms with the client and reduce the risk for miscommunication, over communication, and conflicting statements. Trigon strives for greatness in all of these areas, and we'd love to work with you to help you succeed.