Last week I wrote about handling disappointment. One of the ways of managing disappointment or potentially avoiding it is how one properly sets expectations. The trigger for these articles was the way the news folk and weathermen set the expectation for what they referred to as a HISTORIC snowstorm. Yes, for eastern Long Island and parts of New England, the expectations were properly set. However, because the expectations were improperly set for the January 6th snowstorm where I live, the next snowstorm, one week later, was severely downplayed. I was totally surprise when I woke up to almost twice the amount of snow on the ground than the previous week. Fear of sounding a false alarm, many school systems waited until the last minute to delay / close schools and …notifications related to jobs waited until early morning, once the snowfall was already down.
After 17 years of project management experience, 12 of them as a consultant, I have learned the importance of setting expectations. This is really for two basic reasons, the first reason is selfish, as it means that I have thought things through and can communicate what I am doing, how I will get it done and when they can expect results. The second is for the customer I am dealing with (client, employer, etc.), so that they have some time frames and know what they are getting. To help set expectations, there are a couple of needed elements to identify:
- Risk – What are the Barriers to Success, or not undertaking the project
- Assumptions – While facts are most important, sometimes we are not able to gather all of them and need to clearly list the assumptions (e.g., storm will stay on course)
- Outside influences – Need to identify variables that could have an impact (e.g., change in direction due to …)
- Have a Plan – Must include deliverables, major tasks and dates (soon and later are not on any of the calendars I own)
- Communication - Keeping people informed (e.g., news reports, weather on the web)
- Proactive in identifying changes – As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
As John C. Maxwell states, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” As a leader, it is important to hit one’s targets, but if I hit a target and no one knows what, when or where that event occurs, it can be likened to the question; if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? As a leader / manager, we have to lead the tasks we undertake. One way is to set the expectations at the beginning to make sure our customers know the what, when, where and whys; then we need to manage the expectations during the process. If we follow through and do this correctly (and deliver what we said), we gain the confidence of our customers. Otherwise, we lose their confidence. One of the reasons that weathermen get such a bad rap is that they do not always set the right expectations, even though, most of the time they provide with correct information.