Friday, December 19, 2008

Expectation Management

Well, it's been almost two weeks since my last post. As such I figured that a good topic for this blog entry would be "Expectation Management". You see, I had planned to post a blog article every week. Now, with this being only the third posting, nobody can really have any expectations yet about my posting schedule, but I do, and that's enough.

There are three main reasons to strive to manage expectations; Personal Pride, Reliability of Planning, and Conflict Avoidance/Resolution.

Personal Pride
Wikipedia lists Pride as one of the seven deadly sins. I don't want to get into a debate over what constitutes sin, and I am certainly not promoting sinful behaviour. What I am promoting is that one respect him or herself enough to care about how ones behaviour affects others. Personal pride is a funny thing. It's remarkably hard to get some people to take pride in anything, especially their work, while others take so much pride in their work that they can not commit to any dates. I would encourage each person who reads this blog to take as much pride in managing the expectations of others, as they do in producing a quality product.

Reliability of Planning
I know a consultant who, when it comes to estimating work, takes the attitude "When I'm done, I'll tell you how long it took". Now that's not exactly what he says, but that's about the result. He is perfectly satisfied giving you an estimate that is plus or minus 50%. Well, I'm sorry, but that's not an estimate. If you can't be more precise than plus or minus 50%, then you really need to spend more time fleshing out and analyzing the requirements. Now I have on several occasions given estimates where some task in the estimate had a "comfort level" of 50%. Usually, those tasks were the high risk tasks that were started first. Once some progress was made with them, usually the comfort level rose, and consequently the estimate could be revised. To avoid a tangent, "Estimating" will be a topic for another posting. Managing expectations is more than just providing accurate estimates. Managing expectations means that as soon as an issue arises, convey it to the team. I like to use a percentage when discussing issues. I call it my comfort level. If I am certain that I know what the problem is, I will tell people that I have a 100% comfort with it (that number almost never arises). However, if I have doubt about the cause of the issue or how to correct it, I'll rate my comfort level accordingly. This provides the project manager with a valuable sense of how serious the issue is, and the ability to gauge his response.

Conflict Avoidance/Resolution
Most conflicts, not just at work, but in home life, in sport, even in international relations, are the result of expectations being violated. Have you ever had a argument with your spouse? Chances are good it was because one of you did something or said something that was contrary to the expectations of the other. Now you might say "Well, duh! That's a little simplistic, isn't it?" And to that I would reply "yes", but conflicts really can be avoided that easily! The thing is that once a conflict has started, resolution is MUCH harder, but if we all work at managing expectations, then we will have fewer conflicts. I have taken four personality profiles over the years, and I would strongly recommend to anyone to at least take one. Most of these types of services will categorize people into four different groups (of course they are all called something different). In all four of the assessments I've had, my personality came back as almost even across all four categories. Now, what that tells me is that I can get along with just about anyone. What is also tells me is that I can annoy... JUST ABOUT ANYONE! The power of understanding the different personality types is that you are better equipped to manage the expectations of other people. If I see that a project manager is a "real" numbers person, I know that my percentage approach to comfort will be understood, however, if I see that a project manager is more visual, or emotional, I will use another analogy to illustrate my comfort... who knows, I may find myself talking in terms of "church pew" versus "sofa".

The final word is this...
If you say you will do something, do it! If you say that you will be somewhere, be there! As soon as you know that you can't meet the expectations of others, let them know. There is really nothing more to it than that.

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