Managing Expectations

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Seeking to prevent disappointment by establishing in advance what can realistically be achieved or delivered by a project, undertaking, course of action, etc.

A context where I used this skill:
Expectation Management is something I use 24 by 7 at work or life in general. But allow me to give a particular example that also highlights the cascading impact that expectations can have on product sales.

There was this Product development firm for which our team was performing “independent” testing. We were hired as external test team on contract. We were working with the product manager to test the different features of their “Sales Tracker”. The product was supposed to track the activities of the sales team members of the product in terms of their planned and actual customer visits, the sales leads generated, potential and actual sales, calls dropped , calls missed, Call service optimization, analytics and reports client wise / business unit wise / location wise / product wise etc.

The initial version of the product was supposed to have all the wonderful reports and analytics along with the other features. The next version was to come up with call route optimization and have availability on cloud.

As we started to test, we found that the application was not able to process the volume of data that it was receiving from all the sales teams. Also, there was quite a delay in receiving the data from remote areas to the central server. All of this was causing analytics to provide incomplete real time analytics and reports to fail. Reports would start processing the data but would hang before getting fully loaded.

The same was communicated to the product manager by the test team as simply as “analytics and Reports not working”. Specific issues were logged as defects and bought up in the status meetings with the product team. The risks of potential delay got discussed at length. Test team did make a strong attempt to recalibrate the expectations. Product team was however, under heavy pressure from the sales team to deliver on time. The Product team did not push back and inform the reality. Instead it communicated the sales team as “analytics and reports not working fully”. Test team could have involved Sales team in their status meeting. The sales team knew that these modules were critical and part of key success factors. However, they concluded that incomplete components can be completed in an interim release, sometime before the next version. They were adamant on the release date. They also escalated on Product team for not delivering as planned. What they never did was analyze the potential risk and inform the buyers about the same.

Once the product was launched - the customer feedback got much worse. There were huge complaints on what was promised and what was delivered. It wasn’t surprising at all to see sales drop as reporting and analytics were very critical to customers and were identified as key success factors from the start.

How I'd recommend someone learn this skill:
Expectations cannot be obvious to one and not the other. Very first step towards expectation setting is to know and accept the reality in terms of team capabilities, constraints, dependencies and risks we are working with. Get involved early in the life cycle. Make sure you spend enough time with the senior management to understand key success factors of the project, so that each time there is a new risk identified or change in existing risk situation, one can go back and look at the impact on these key success factors.

Over communication does not exist – so involve all stake holders in discussions. Have milestones and reminders for them. Have standup calls, status meetings etc., to communicate potential pain points or status in general and discuss way forward. Set priorities for what is important, so it’s easy to get attention of all stake holders if something critical needs attention. The entire purpose of expectations management is to set real expectations which may not be a very good news to hear sometimes. But it’s very important to communicate the bad news too with appropriate supporting details. Also, it’s important at such times to not fall in trap of sugar coating a lot and ending up setting incorrect expectations again. You may need to push back some of your team members in order to keep them from saying what the management wants to hear and make them accept reality and speak it.

Additional resources:

By: Smita Mishra

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