How to manage expectations and come out on top.
Congratulations! You got yourself a new job, you got promoted (worth it or not does not make much difference nowadays), you got a new project assigned that could as well act as your chance to make your next career step! No matter what the case might be, you definitely have a significant mile stone ahead for your career path. But let’s just take one step back in order to consider what the whole request is for, or rather what are the exact specifics of your potential deliverable?
Do you think that there will always be someone else setting your personal goals, pushing you to your limits, always seeking more of your physical and mental resources in order to make your salary worth? Well, that’s half the truth, as you should start thinking how you can set, limit, or rather, clarify in total honesty with them, what they should be looking for as a result of your efforts. Soon enough, you will find yourself in a much more comfortable situation than ever expected: that of a project manager.
Let’s use an easy to understand example that will throw a bit of light on the point I am trying to make today. Assume you just landed that terrific opportunity and you are just moments away from presenting your ideas and strategy in front of the company’s executive board. Chances are that should they be financing your project, they’ll eventually be asking for surrealistic timeframes, extravagant results, close to zero resources and expenditure down to 1/10 of the initial budget signed off. It’s a common secret that these requirements cannot be met by normal human beings, so you are expected to manage something, that simply put, cannot be managed.
The ball is now in your court, so you must stand your ground and simply tell the people what they should expect as a result according to the scope agreed, what the deliverable will be, and what it will not be, and make sure they understand one very significant thing: the solution itself cannot do magic.
By limiting their expectations, you will give yourself room to breathe, buy yourself time, and at the end you will be much closer to success. I do agree it does require some courage and expertise at the same time in order to make ‘them’ trust you and rely upon your own promises regarding the solution they are seeking.
This of course is not the end of the game as there is a balance to be had between delivering what they thought they wanted and giving them what you think is feasible. You should take very careful steps and provide them with comprehensive status reports so as to assure them that their project is being well taken care of and, if you can, prove to them that you’re ahead of the game – their game!
There is a wise saying that goes like this: ‘Give them five and they’ll ask for ten,’ meaning that you should always be careful enough not to be over-productive if the timeframes you’ve set seem unrealistic, a clever senior manager will figure out that the only thing you’ve been striving for to date was to buy yourself more and more free time within the project’s length. Then, you’re virtually out before you know it and we do not want that, do we?
It’s about time you take your S.M.A.R.T. objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) to the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound, Exciting and Rewarding) level, as we assume they already were C-S.M.A.R.T., where ‘C’ stands for Challenging, otherwise you would never have accepted and committed yourself to them.
Say that you’ve agreed to a specific project that will boost your career but it’s not quite as exciting and rewarding as you would expect or hope. You just need to be clever enough to start ‘distorting’ the final solution from the very beginning by showing expertise and experience on the subject, and the others will eventually trust you regardless their initial vision of their project. They will not risk the end results if you build a robust level of trust between yourself and the team, knowing that you’re the real expert on the discipline. By using the word ‘distorting’ I do not encourage anyone to do other than they are told, just lead the initial conversation and project to that small overlapping portion between your comfort zone and theirs. Additionally, this distortion can always kick in during the regular status reports, evidencing why the slight route change is inevitable. After all is said and done, and the solution has been delivered according to both their needs and your ideas on how to best make use of the time and resources provided, everyone will be happy. In fact, everyone will be happy even if you distort the solution a lot, as long as at the same time you manage to spend as little budget as possible!
Even if you happen to have limitless drive yourself, always remember that there are only so many rabbits one can pull out of one’s hat. Something to always keep in your mind is that in addition to time, effort, skills and talent, you also need means.
Regardless of your own organizational level, the objectives you allow yourself to be measured by should always be:
Always ask for specifically set requirements and standards regarding the requested task(s). For example, ask for a job description if you are going to have a new position or a full and explicit description for a new product or solution.
What you’re being asked to deliver should always be measurable, otherwise you’ll quite easily find yourself in pretty awkward situations trying to prove that the solution provided by yourself suits what they had in mind but never clearly expressed. Targets can be quantitative, qualitative or a mix of both depending on the task’s nature and needs. If you own a position in a sales department for instance, it is crucial to know the sales target or the cost of sales target.
This is a point of understanding between c-suite and project managers: it is of high importance that the goals given are – above all – achievable. For example, it is impossible to meet 10 different clients in different geographic areas (in the same case of the salesman) when there are only eight working hours available and you have to spend one hour with each client.
How can one deliver something – as said in the beginning of this very article – that is surrealistic? By all means, avoid committing to a goal that aims for the stars, chances are that you won’t be able to deliver within timeframe and budget as well as other constraints.
- Time Bound
You have to make sure that you have enough time to deliver and always keep a small contingency for yourself. There is always the possibility of a project risk derailing your plans, and you do not want to be the one that makes up silly excuses to management or you will fall short in their eyes, meaning no more projects for you.
Other than the aforementioned basic pillars of expectation management, which in fact is very closely bound to project management itself, there some other additional and crucial ingredients that will either support or fail you:
The means someone has to respond to somebody’s great expectations is of high importance as well. Do you have the information and the guidelines needed in order for task implementation? Is the budget enough to cover the needs of the results asked for? Is there enough head count available to go on with the specific project required? Do you have sufficient and adequate equipment to do the job? A Business Investment Plan for example is out of the question when zero budget is available.
- Reset of Goals
Stick to the message. Stick to the plan. One’s focus can only be to reach the target set. This means that both parties have to follow up with the progress of the target plan and reconsider the targets when needed in order for them to be reached.
Expectation management takes two to tango. According to what I previously said, one has to be flexible, clever and proactive in order to make sure that your commitment will get the solution needed. If not, it’s not easy to simply manage great expectations set by people other than yourself. You do not have to be the great pretender in order to reach your goals, or rather their goals, but a small bit of ‘acting’ is definitely part of the recipe. It’s simply down to you to decide if you’re up to it or you’re just going be another ‘consumable’ professional just because you fell short when you needed to stand your ground and give them what they thought they were seeking.
Gr8 expectations are set by gr8 leaders and are properly ‘managed’ by gr8 minds like yourself!