The problem with expectations

Expectations are an interesting thing it has to be said. (I was originally going to lead with a crude joke here, if you can guess what it was please don’t comment below!)

We all know and understand the concept of trust; trusting a friend, a supplier, a customer. But expectations vary wildly between them all, often changing regularly.

I’ve learnt various ways to manage expectations over the years. I usually tell people. “This will be better, but not a lot, but it will be better!” or words to that effect. Sometimes people expect a new piece of technology to revolutionise the way they work.

But that’s just the half of it.

I’ve talked before, and will doubtless do so again, about how putting in a solution is less about the solution and more about how you use that solution.

And it follows that I see a lot of solutions and almost as many people that are confused about what the benefit is. Just this week I’ve seen two examples of this, and it’s only Wednesday!

Of the biggest problems I’ve noticed a lack of training or awareness seem prevalent.

The project management training (and a sprinkling of common sense as well!) I’ve received has taught me to involve the end-users at every step, even if they’re not always able to influence the result, just keying them in softens the pain of the new thing.

BUT, as previously mentioned, the people that use the thing can be a powerful asset. Since they use it, and you, your project manager and your supplier don’t. Sure, you may think you do, but day to day?

The technology industry is littered with examples of expensive systems that take an overlong time to provide and wind up failing due to not being suitable, or causing too much extra work, or the myriad other reasons.

Involving the users initially might not always prevent this, but it helps.

And involving those guys you can make an early start on managing their expectations.

Of the not-very-good solutions I’ve seen this week one has been a phone system.

Which is exactly what you’d expect it to be. A way to make phone calls. But the majority of systems that are installed these days do so many more things. Things that can help productivity and make business smoother and easier.

I’ve seen a lot of phone systems installed that often do not come with very much end-user help, advice, training, guidance. The worst of which was zero anything, only marginally better being given a “manual” that comes with the phones. The better efforts were training, generic manuals and company-specific documents even including a phone directory.

In sales the focus is so much on impressing the person who agrees the project, or pays the bill. There’s less urgency to give attention to end-users. But they’re the reviewers.

This is no longer a way of working I support.

My business is in a state of change itself – more on that soon. But one of the main focuses of the change is based around better support for technology solutions after they’re implemented, training, guidance and development. All such simple stuff, but so powerful.

So what about those expectations?

Let’s consider this brief, but outlandish, example. (I mean who’d ever do such a crazy thing?!)

You’re working at a company, the company has decided to put in Apple Macs to replace their aging PCs

You are told nothing, given zero warning before or zero support/training after, just get on with it.

OR

You are told what is about to happen, you are told to expect the abject pain and suffering that learning a new computer system will give you. You are warned you will lose hair over this.

OR

You are told what is about to happen, you are asked if you have any thoughts/opinions (you may or may not be listened to, but you are asked nonetheless) and you are told about and subsequently given some sensible training on how to operate the new systems.

 

Which one would most of us rather have?

 

This is, of course, an exaggerated example for the purposes of this. BUT look at the options; 1 – you have no warning, so the expectations are essentially zero. All of the pain and suffering you will get will be on the morning you walk into your office and see the new thing.

2 – Is probably the worst.  You know something is happening but are powerless to prevent it or shape it in any way. This scenario often happens when things are planned and the plan leaks. Staff will gossip and problems start to fester. I’ve seen this, lots, it’s not pretty how it splits a workforce.

3 – Is nirvana – the promised land! You know what’s happening, you can feel confident that you will get a bit of support, shown how to work this new thing. In the days, weeks and months building up you will not get so stressed, all being well it’d be a decent transition.

 

So, exaggerated examples aside this is a good illustration of how expectations can totally derail a project. If that project has been sold to the company as a business-changing innovation or something similar but the follow-up is weak what do you think will happen?

Now you can see why my focus is shifting. To supporting clients as much after project as before and during. If these projects are to be a success we not only need to manage expectations we also need to be good, as good as our word.

Soon, I will be going full force into more strategic business technology projects. If you have a requirement – the more tricky the better! Please feel free to get in touch!

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THE PERSONAL BLOG OF CORNWALL-BASED COMPANY DIRECTOR // CHRIS RICKARD