6 ways to get really good at managing expectations

If you’re someone who is good at managing expectations – those of your client, your team, your boss, maybe even your family – you’re going to be better off in any situation because you’ve made everyone else part of the situation better off as well.

Dilbert on managing expectations
An amusing perspective only possible from Dilbert. Credit: Dilbert.com

 

What ‘managing expectations’ really means

 

What managing expectations really means is making sure there are NO SURPRISES.  Outside of birthday parties, wedding proposals and maybe winning the lottery, surprises not usually good things. And remember, for those examples of good surprises we just mentioned, they were only surprises to the people who didn’t know about them So the point of managing expectations is to reduce the number of surprises. People don’t like uncertainty.

 

before_after
It’s important to keep expectations in check.

 

As much as humans like to be interested in different things, we all work with some sort of life/work routines. It’s been proven that routines help us focus on what’s important by reducing the number of decisions we need to make each day just to survive when each day is different form the next.

 

That they all happen to start with ‘C’ is pure coincidence. Here are 6 ways you can work on your ability to manage expectations and get better results in whatever situation you might find yourself in.

 

1. Be cautious

You’ve probably head people say ‘don’t over promise’. This doesn’t just apply to project deliverables but every aspect of a project or relationship. If following a presentation your client asks you, ‘so can setup another meeting in a couple days from now to review those changes?’, DON’T OVER PROMISE by agreeing. You should agree of course, that meeting will definitely happen but a couple of days from now might not work best for your team (who are the ones who need to do the changes in question). The best answer when a Client is trying to get a commitment from you on the spot is

 

“Sure, let me check with the team and I will get back to you by (______).”

 

No can fault you for wanting to confirm with your team first so you’re sure.  After all they’d rather know that they won’t have to rearrange their schedule either. The most important thing here is to make sure you get back to them by when you promised them.

 

 

2. Be consistent

The easier you make it for people to know what to expect from you, the easier you’re job will be to manage expectations . If you always send out notes and action items following meetings, the people who receive them will come to expect it. They may not necessarily acknowledge the effort because, ‘thanks for sending me more action items Tara!’, said no one ever.

 

When you do something consistently, it helps to provide some stability to whoever, Client, team etc., that you’re working with. It also communicates (without you having to say anything) that you’re serious about this project and that they should be too.

 

Now if you send notes and action items after some meetings and not others, this isn’t good. If there’s nothing worth noting at the conclusion of a meeting, it pretty much means it was a complete waste of time and that you should work on managing expectations for what you want to get out of meetings in the future.

 

 

3. Read the contract

If you don’t know what the contract says then you’re kind of ‘up the river without a paddle’, or rather ‘heading down to whitewater with no life preserver’. Maybe it’s called a ‘Scope of Work’ or maybe ‘The Brief’, whatever document it is that outlines what you’re doing for who, for how much and by when is the contract I’m talking about. Read it once and then read it again, slowly if you have to, don’t skim it. Skimming leads to ‘oh i totally missed that before’, a.k.a. budget and schedule over-runs aka. mad client.

comical illustration about contracts
No matter how much you don’t want to do it, make yourself read the contract. You might start to like it! Photo credit: Fran Cartoons

 

Know exactly what you’re on the hook for and if the contract is unclear in any way, which i’m quite sure it will be, schedule a quick meeting with whoever wrote it so you’re both on the same page as to what it means, what you’re doing and most importantly, what the client is expecting.

 

 

4. Over communicate

Everything is always going great until it isn’t.  That once friendly client contact now wants to know where you are all the time, and would quickly take a spot sitting on your shoulder if she could. Remember that as soon as you give a client, or anyone for that matter, a reason to doubt you or worry, it’s a very difficult thing to undo.

 

It’s a good thing to keep in mind that your client usually has a full-time job to do in addition to being your point-person. It’s not their job to manage you and you shouldn’t need them to. So over-communicating doesn’t mean share every possible detail, it means emphasizing the the most the information that is most relevant to obtaining an outcome that is beneficial for everyone involved.

 

Let’s use an example for this one. Say you’re setting up that meeting your client was asking about earlier to go over those revisions. Since this would be the 2nd meeting you might follow a process where after a certain number of revisions, you require a client’s approval or sign-off to proceed to the next stage of the project. If we assume that this is a meeting where you will be looking for approval, you’ll want to make sure you’re client is well prepared to give you what you need.

 

To over-communicate in this example is to make sure both your team and the Client are clear about what the objective of the meeting is in advance. This would mean speaking to your main Client point of contact to make sure that they know what the meeting  objective is that anyone from their side who should be involved in making an approval attend the meeting. Over-communicating means actually stating these steps and then following them up with an email. An old colleague of mine Nicole taught me this saying:

 

“If you ASSUME you make and ASS out of U and ME”

 

Remember, NO SURPRISES. Never assume that what you’re thinking about is what other people must be thinking about too. Everyone has their own priorities they need to get through everyday, respect this and help them by over-communicating what you need up front and in point-form.
5. Be candid

 

Yes honesty is always the best policy but within reason. Anything information that would cause a client or your team to worry for no reason is usually something you can keep to yourself.

 

For example, say the Jr Visual Designer working on the project is going on vacation in 2 weeks and another designer will take over any work until they return. It’s likely that the Junior designer is not client facing so that they’re going to be away would be of no consequence to the client. The most important part of this scenario is that the work that needs to happen while they’re out is being covered by someone else, and you already have a plan for that.

 

Let’s look at another example. Say that if you’re two weeks away from launching a new e-commerce website for a client in a week but something is going wrong with the products database but your engineering team is not exactly sure what it is just yet but they’re working on it. The client has announced the launch date to the press and has sold a lot of advertising that will be nonrefundable so close to the air date. Assuming that your engineering team agree this is a problem that has the potential to impact the site’s launch date, being candid with your client about the true situation is the best plan so they can do whatever they have to on their side to help mitigate the risk.  And remember to over-communicate how the problem was identified and now what you’re doing to fix it to reduce worry as much as possible.

 

6. Be Clear

Perhaps it’s obvious but I’m including it for good measure as it’s something that I work on everyday to try improve. The easier you make it for the other person to understand what they need to do, the higher the chance of them doing it.

 

So what this really means is be clear about the call to action. Do you need a response? If so, what type of response do you need? For example, if you need an approval for something say you need approval and by when. If you need the person you’re emailing to follow-up on something to get information back to you, state that clearly. Just remember that most people are focused on doing their job, they don’t have time to figure out stuff for your job. Helping them helps you – before you hit ‘send’, read it out loud to yourself. If you start to feel silly reading it, change it before you send it.

Dilbert cartoon on communication
No one has the time to figure out what you’re trying to say, let alone what you actually want, simplify! Photo credit: Dilbert.com

 

And here’s a bonus!

 

7. Exercise Clairvoyance (the bonus ‘C’!)

No one expects you to see the future but if you’re doing all the above you should be able to imagine what possible scenarios you might encounter down the line. A big part of managing expectations is being able to foresee potential issues and try to prevent and/or mitigate them early on.

 

 

If you can apply these to every situation you’re in you’ll be doing a great job managing expectations and people will be lining up to work with you. Here they are one more time:

  1. Be cautious
  2. Be consistent
  3. Read the contract
  4. Over communicate
  5. Be candid
  6. Exercise clairvoyance (if you can)

10 principles to deliver your best customer service, every time

As a Project Manager, a successful project is about more than just completing a project according to the contract. A better measure of project success is when a Client is so happy with the result that they’re willing to give you a glowing recommendation at the end of it.

 

happy campers
You always want the campers to be happy. Photo credit: Mike Erskine via Unsplash.

 

For every new project I made it a personal goal to do a great job and to make sure that each client felt like they were always getting the best possible result (and indeed they were!). While the goals, strategy and deliverables on each project were different, delivering a great customer service experience is something everyone should be striving to do. After all, more and more data today points to customer service being the defining factor in if a customer decides to buy or use a product or service again.

 

I found that if I applied a set of specific principles (or steps) to every project, I know that what I’d be providing is the best possible customer service to each client. So without further ado, here they are.

 

10 Principles for delivering your best customer service, every time

 

1. Listen – yes but actually listen, and to the things that might not be said. If you really try to listen (and understand) what the other person is saying this is usually half the battle. Make it easier on yourself and really try to listen.

 

2. Respond in real time – making someone wait for a response is not good, usually because it makes the other person feeling that they’re not special. Even if you don’t perhaps have the answer to a specific question, just say ‘i got your email, and will get back to you _(when you’ll get back to them)__”

 

3. Do what you say – if you say you’ll get back to someone tomorrow morning, you better do it! Or else the other person will start to feel they’re not special.

 

4. Follow-up – if someone says they’ll get back to you tomorrow morning and they don’t, follow-up! This shows that you care, and that you were LISTENING when they told you they’d get back to you tomorrow morning.

 

5. Explain your process – don’t assume everyone is an expert in what you do, after all they hired you to do whatever it is you’re doing. Think of it like being at the dentist, would you like to know the situation before you see a big drill coming at you?

 

6. Make information accessible – don’t hog the info, have a place or way to share information about what you’re doing so people don’t feel like they’re in the dark. And once someone knows it’s available, they might not even use it.

 

7. Own your mistakes – if you screwed up, own it. It will encourage others to do the same.

 

8. Anticipate  – you can’t see the future but as the expert you should be able to look out for situations that can be prevented or averted. In other words, be proactive.

 

9. Move things forward – some people might call this ‘getting to yes’ but the right answer could be anything. If you are in a situation you you don’t know which way to go, ask yourself ‘what do i need to do to move this situation forward’? ‘What has to happen for us to get to/do X’ – whatever the answer is, focus on that and what you need to do in order to move it along.

 

10. Be a partner – a Client is a client but everyone wants to feel like they have a friend. Make them feel like you’ve got their back.

 

 

 

Want good requirements? Focus on these 2 things

Why is the important part of a project is also the part that no one ever wants to do? Getting requirements down on paper is the first step towards success. But while so many people know this, it still happens all the time. Here are some of the most common reasons I hear for why no one write down the requirements:

 

  • “We didn’t have time we had to start asap to make the deadline.”
  • “There was no budget available for a resource do the requirements.”
  • “The goals of the project were not clear at the beginning so we didn’t bother.”
  • “The client wasn’t available to talk to us about what they wanted.”
  • “We’re an agile team so we don’t need requirements.”

 

If any of the above this sounds familiar this is for you.

 

What is a ‘requirement’?

A requirement describes how something must work to meet the objectives of the end-user.

 

 

Why do you need them?

If you want a project to succeed you’d best have your requirements clearly defined and available for your team. If you’re a one or two person team it’s completely possible that you didn’t have any written requirements. However, with more complex projects and larger teams, not having a set of requirements to work with increases risk significantly.

 

Why are they useful?

Requirements are what should guide the project team on what they should be building vs what they think they should be building. Requirements help remove a lot of the guesswork that has to happen when things aren’t clear. We know that it’s impossible to reduce uncertainty completely. By defining requirements you’re putting your team and project in a much better position to succeed.
Having requirements is also the most effective way to get everyone on the team on the same page. Especially where you have cross-functional teams made up for roles from designers to developers who may not all be working out of the same office.

 

 

How do you write a good requirement?

There are many resources out there that will tell you the best way to document requirements. I recommend that you search these out for yourself so that you can find something that works the best for you.

 

For our purposes here and for those who may be new the the requirements process, I’ve condensed the process down to just two key steps. Now let’s get to these and some examples.

Requirements for good requirements

 

Requirement Rule #1: An effective requirement must be clear

Seems simple enough right?  Don’t be fooled! Really ‘being clear’ with your written requirements will require you to cut through a lot of ambiguity. If there’s any room for interpretation (or misinterpretation), it’s guaranteed to happen if your requirements are absolutely clear.

 

You might be familiar with this cartoon below. If you’re a PM or have ever been part of a project team, you might be laughing (or crying!).

tree-swing-project-management-featured

 

Ok, now let’s get to some examples.

Let’s use the example of a simple website redesign and development project. You have a customer who you’re redesigning their existing website for. Their current website is a static site so the new site will have an updated visual design as well as a Content Management System (CMS) so they can edit and update the content themselves.

 

Website Redesign Requirement #1

 

“The customer should be able to update website content.”

 

At first glance this makes total sense but there are a few things about this statement that makes it not as clear as it could be. We can ask a few questions to try gain more clarity:

 

1. Who is the ‘customer’ referring to in this case?

 

  • Is it someone you’re building this website for and the person who will be administering it?
  • It referring to the end-user customer, aka the users/visitors of the website?
  • If the customer is referring to one administrator this is much different from multiple
  • customers who need site editing abilities in some capacity.

 

2. What does ‘should be able to’ mean?

 

  • In an ideal world one ‘should be able to’ something but alas, summer Fridays are here and the whole team had to head out for beers. It’s always best to use the word ‘must’ when documenting requirements so it’s very clear to all stakeholders that something is required, not just a ‘nice to have’.

 

3. What content needs to be updateable?

 

  • Does ‘content’ refer to site text and images? Are there any other content types that the Administrator (the customer) will need to update? (eg. videos, products etc.)
  • Must all content be updatable or specifically page content via a WYSIWYG editor.

 

Based on these questions we just went through, we can update this requirement to this:

 

“The website Administrator must have the ability to edit/update and delete website content that includes content page text, images and embedded video links.”

 

 

Let’s do another one.

 

Website Redesign Requirement #2

 

“The website needs to integrate with Twitter.”

 

Even if you’re not so familiar with Twitter the first question you might ask is ‘integrate how?’. The word ‘integration’ is thrown around a lot these days and can mean a lot of different things. So in this example let’s see what questions we can ask to try and clarify further:

 

1. What the specifics on the Twitter account?

 

  • Is there a specific Twitter account the customer is using?
  • What is the Twitter handle for that account? (This might seem like a basic question but it’s possible the customer does not actually have a Twitter account)

 

2. What exactly is meant by ‘integration’?

 

  • There are several ways to integrate twitter with a website, which type of integration is being required?

 

If we say that for this example that the customer would like their twitter feed to appear on the website, we would update this requirement as follows:

 

“Website will integrate customer’s Twitter account (@custhandle) to display the latest Tweets ordered from newest to oldest on the website’s homepage using Twitter’s ‘user timeline’ feature. Implementation documentation is available in Twitter’s developer documentation.”

 

Once you think you’ve done your best ensure your requirements are as clear as possible, you can move onto the second step.

 

Requirements Rule #2: An effective requirements must be verifiable

 

Once you think you have a list of requirements that are clear, you can move onto step two.  The second step here is reviewing your requirements to make sure they are verifiable.

 

What exactly does that mean? If a requirement is an explanation of how something is supposed to work, there needs to be a way to test to see that it does work as intended. This is why things get confusing later if a requirement wasn’t clear to begin with.

 

So in step two, we want to document clear steps on how we test whether or not a requirement has been completed to spec and checked off as ‘verified’.
Let’s try this using the first example from earlier.

 

“Website administrator must have the ability to edit/update and delete website content that includes content page text, images and embedded video links.”

 

 

In order to verify if the requirement works to its specification, we could use these steps to help us verify if it works or not.

 

1. Administrator log into the administrator dashboard of website.

2. Administrator navigate to an editable content page (e.g. ‘About us) then:

(a) edit some page text then save changes

(b) edit a page image then save changes

3. Refresh edit page and confirm that changes have been saved.

 

If all three steps can be completed without interruptions, you can say that the requirement has been implemented correctly.

 
Let’s do the same with the second requirement example.

 

“Website will integrate customer’s Twitter account (@custhandle) to display the latest Tweets ordered from newest to oldest on the website’s homepage using Twitter’s ‘user timeline’ feature. Implementation documentation is available in Twitter’s developer documentation.”

 

In order to verify if the requirement works to its specification, we could test it as follows:

  1. Navigate to website homepage.
  2. Scroll to section displaying Twitter integration.
  3. Confirm that the latest Tweets from the account (@custhandle) are displaying on the page.

 

If we can confirm seeing the latest Tweets on the homepage of the new website as stated in the requirement, we’ve verified that this requirement has been successfully implemented.

 

In this simple example it might seem like additional work to write this all down. However, if it is that easy, taking just a few minutes to write it down should not be a big deal. If you start writing and find out it takes any longer, it’s usually a sign that the requirement is not clear and that you need to go back and clarify it further.

 
If you were making something that already exists you would just copy what’s already been done before. So when you work on requirements, think about them as an opportunity to create something new. And as with anything, the only way to get better is to practice, practice practice.

 

Next time you have to write requirements for a project, focus on making sure they are:

 

1. Clear (must be no room for misinterpretation)

2. Verifiable (a way to test to pass fail)

 

If you can do these two things you’ll be well on your way to running a more effective project.

Managing Expectations: 6 ways to get really good at it

Dilbert on managing expectations
An amusing perspective only possible from Dilbert. Credit: Dilbert.com

 

What does managing expectations really mean?

What managing expectations really means is making sure that there are NO SURPRISES.  Outside of birthday parties, wedding proposals and maybe winning the lottery, surprises not usually good things. The whole point and goal of managing expectations is to reduce the number of surprises. People don’t like uncertainty.

 

before_after
Which is before, which is after? Somehow the before and after are never quite as you imagined them to be. This is why it’s important to start managing expectations from the get go, not when it might already be too late.

 

As much as humans like to be interested in different things, we all work with some sort of life/work routines. It’s been proven that routines help us focus on what’s important by reducing the number of decisions we need to make each day just to survive when each day is different form the next.

 

That they all happen to start with ‘C’ is pure coincidence. Here are 6 ways you can work on your ability to manage expectations and get better results in whatever situation you might find yourself in.

 

1. Be cautious

You’ve probably head people say ‘don’t over promise’. This doesn’t just apply to project deliverables but every aspect of a project or relationship. If following a presentation your client asks you, ‘so can setup another meeting in a couple days from now to review those changes?’, DON’T OVER PROMISE by agreeing. You should agree of course, that meeting will definitely happen but a couple of days from now might not work best for your team (who are the ones who need to do the changes in question). The best answer when a Client is trying to get a commitment from you on the spot is

 

“Sure, let me check with the team and I will get back to you by (______).”

 

No can fault you for wanting to confirm with your team first so you’re sure.  After all they’d rather know that they won’t have to rearrange their schedule either. The most important thing here is to make sure you get back to them by when you promised them.

 

 

2. Be consistent

The easier you make it for people to know what to expect from you, the easier you’re job will be to manage expectations . If you always send out notes and action items following meetings, the people who receive them will come to expect it. They may not necessarily acknowledge the effort because, ‘thanks for sending me more action items Tara!’, said no one ever.

 

When you do something consistently, it helps to provide some stability to whoever, Client, team etc., that you’re working with. It also communicates (without you having to say anything) that you’re serious about this project and that they should be too.

 

Now if you send notes and action items after some meetings and not others, this isn’t good. If there’s nothing worth noting at the conclusion of a meeting, it pretty much means it was a complete waste of time and that you should work on managing expectations for what you want to get out of meetings in the future.

 

 

3. Read the contract

If you don’t know what the contract says then you’re kind of ‘up the river without a paddle’, or rather ‘heading down to whitewater with no life preserver’. Maybe it’s called a ‘Scope of Work’ or maybe ‘The Brief’, whatever document it is that outlines what you’re doing for who, for how much and by when is the contract I’m talking about. Read it once and then read it again, slowly if you have to, don’t skim it. Skimming leads to ‘oh i totally missed that before’, a.k.a. budget and schedule over-runs aka. mad client.

comical illustration about contracts
No matter how much you don’t want to do it, make yourself read the contract. You might start to like it! Photo credit: Fran Cartoons

 

Know exactly what you’re on the hook for and if the contract is unclear in any way, which i’m quite sure it will be, schedule a quick meeting with whoever wrote it so you’re both on the same page as to what it means, what you’re doing and most importantly, what the client is expecting.

 

Here are some quick tips on how to read a contract to avoid problems later on.

4. Over communicate

Everything is always going great until it isn’t.  That once friendly client contact now wants to know where you are all the time, and would quickly take a spot sitting on your shoulder if she could. Remember that as soon as you give a client, or anyone for that matter, a reason to doubt you or worry, it’s a very difficult thing to undo.

 

It’s a good thing to keep in mind that your client usually has a full-time job to do in addition to being your point-person. It’s not their job to manage you and you shouldn’t need them to. So over-communicating doesn’t mean share every possible detail, it means emphasizing the the most the information that is most relevant to obtaining an outcome that is beneficial for everyone involved.

Dilbert over communicate

Let’s use an example for this one. Say you’re setting up that meeting your client was asking about earlier to go over those revisions. Since this would be the 2nd meeting you might follow a process where after a certain number of revisions, you require a client’s approval or sign-off to proceed to the next stage of the project. If we assume that this is a meeting where you will be looking for approval, you’ll want to make sure you’re client is well prepared to give you what you need.

 

To over-communicate in this example is to make sure both your team and the Client are clear about what the objective of the meeting is in advance. This would mean speaking to your main Client point of contact to make sure that they know what the meeting  objective is that anyone from their side who should be involved in making an approval attend the meeting. Over-communicating means actually stating these steps and then following them up with an email. An former colleague of mine Nicole taught me this gem which I’m now passing onto you,

 

“If you ASSUME you make and ASS out of U and ME”

 

Remember, NO SURPRISES. Never assume that what you’re thinking about is what other people must be thinking about too. Everyone has their own priorities they need to get through everyday, respect this and help them by over-communicating what you need up front and in point-form.

 

 

 

5. Be candid

 

Yes honesty is always the best policy but within reason. Anything information that would cause a client or your team to worry for no reason is usually something you can keep to yourself.

 

For example, say the Jr Visual Designer working on the project is going on vacation in 2 weeks and another designer will take over any work until they return. It’s likely that the Junior designer is not client facing so that they’re going to be away would be of no consequence to the client. The most important part of this scenario is that the work that needs to happen while they’re out is being covered by someone else, and you already have a plan for that.

Dilbert be candid

Let’s look at another example. Say that if you’re two weeks away from launching a new e-commerce website for a client in a week but something is going wrong with the products database but your engineering team is not exactly sure what it is just yet but they’re working on it. The client has announced the launch date to the press and has sold a lot of advertising that will be nonrefundable so close to the air date. Assuming that your engineering team agree this is a problem that has the potential to impact the site’s launch date, being candid with your client about the true situation is the best plan so they can do whatever they have to on their side to help mitigate the risk.  And remember to over-communicate how the problem was identified and now what you’re doing to fix it to reduce worry as much as possible.

 

 

6. Be Clear

 

Perhaps it’s obvious but I’m including it for good measure as it’s something that I work on everyday to try improve. The easier you make it for the other person to understand what they need to do, the higher the chance of them doing it.

 

So what this really means is be clear about the call to action. Do you need a response? If so, what type of response do you need? For example, if you need an approval for something say you need approval and by when. If you need the person you’re emailing to follow-up on something to get information back to you, state that clearly. Just remember that most people are focused on doing their job, they don’t have time to figure out stuff for your job. Helping them helps you – before you hit ‘send’, read it out loud to yourself. If you start to feel silly reading it, change it before you send it.

Dilbert on communication
No one has the time to figure out what you’re trying to say, let alone what you actually want, simplify! Photo credit: Dilbert.com

 

And here’s a bonus!

 

7. Exercise Clairvoyance (the bonus ‘C’!)

No one expects you to see the future but if you’re doing all the above you should be able to imagine what possible scenarios you might encounter down the line. A big part of managing expectations is being able to foresee potential issues and try to prevent and/or mitigate them early on.

 

If you can apply these to every situation you’re in you’ll be doing a great job managing expectations and people will be lining up to work with you. Here they are one more time:

 

  1. Be cautious
  2. Be consistent
  3. Read the contract
  4. Over communicate
  5. Be candid
  6. Exercise clairvoyance (if you can)