On Leading – Expectations

November 17, 2009

The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals. Whether you are dealing with the question of who does what at work, how you communicate with your daughter when you tell you her to clean her room, or who feeds the fish and takes out the garbage, you can be certain that unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment, and withdrawals of trust.

–          Stephen Covey

The lack of clear expectations can be the death knell for any relationship be it professional or personal. I found out that I took a lot of expectations for granted which, for the most part, did not come back to bite me. It only took one time for me to learn the error of my ways and start making sure that I was clear to my team members though.

I recently had a situation while managing one of my teams where expectations, as I perceived them, were not met. The real problem was that my perception, which was that I had made my expectations clear to a new member of the team, was not reality as seen by the new team member.

The situation was this:

We were working in a fixed price fashion with a client that was new to us. We were working very diligently to ensure that all of our work products were in top shape and impressed the client. The application was 85% complete with all UI changes having been completed the week before. The budget was running a bit low and we were heading into one of the final reviews for the application.

I had recently added an experienced team member to one of my teams. I had worked with this individual before and so I had a degree of trust in his abilities and his capabilities. His demonstrated skills were such that I had no qualms about putting him in front of our client almost immediately.

During the meeting the new team member started nodding his head at the customer’s new requests for functionality. When the new team member began saying things like “We can add that in the next build” and “That won’t take any time at all” I began to get very uncomfortable. I take the approach that if I, or my team, says that we will get something done then we will get that thing done when we said we would. This put me in a bit of a bind as we have now committed to items that were well out of scope. Needless to say I was a bit frustrated.

So this brings us back to the problems of clear expectations. After thinking back I realized that I had assumed that the team member would know that we don’t make promises to the customer without thinking of the budgetary ramifications. I had not taken into account his previous projects where they were working on a time and materials budget which allowed for the customer to make last minute changes. After I clarified my expectations to the new team member we had a bit of a chuckle and we both stayed late to get the work done in the time we had committed to.

What was the lesson learned:

Always be clear about your expectations. In this case the cost was a long night for the two of us but it could have been much worse. I have taken steps to ensure that all new team members, and existing team members from time to time, are made aware of the expectations for the project at hand.