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Expectation Management

July 09, 2013
Peter Taylor

Warning! The following article contains a potential childhood belief spoiler – you have been warned.

I was presenting a webinar very recently all about requirements management and, naturally, I talked also about the management of expectations as a key part of this.

I described the early part of any project as the ‘journey of expectation management’ as all the of the project representatives came to learn about each other and understand what the project aimed to deliver and what the realistic outcomes were likely to be, and so on. The critical message being that nobody understands everything at the start of the project and, when there are external third parties involved, even less so. Suppliers of products and resources have to learn about the business of the customer and the customer has to learn about the supplier’s product capability.

And it reminded me of a personal story involving my eldest son. When he was a lot younger, around about 8 years old, he was very frustrated that he had yet to lose a tooth – unlike most of his friends and classmates. He was often seen sitting on the stairs wiggling one tooth he believed ‘was about to come out’.

Finally the day came when he proudly announced that indeed a tooth had fallen out (with some persuasion I think) and he couldn’t wait until bedtime to do the time honoured tradition of placing it under his pillow and waking to an exchange gift of money in the morning from the tooth fairy.

And sure enough the next day he came down to breakfast with a shiny one pound coin, one happy child.

But the day after that he came down to breakfast a completely different child; grumpy and very quiet. It wasn’t until later that day my wife let me know the reason why, discovered as she had changed his bedding.

It seemed that he had learnt from his cousin, who had also lost his first tooth recently, that his cousin had received two pounds for his first tooth and so, completely unknown to us, he had written a letter back to the tooth fairy asking for the reason.

It went along the lines of ‘Is it true that a boy who loses his first tooth gets two pounds like my cousin or not true – please tick the right box’ – and yes, there was a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ tick box option.

Of course the letter was still under his pillow that morning, unread and un-replied to.

Well naturally my wife constructed a letter of apology from the tooth fairy, added a second shiny new one pound coin that evening as he slept and the next morning we had a smiling, happy son sitting with us at breakfast once again.

Expectation setting can come from many sources and as a project manager you need to ‘manage’ each and every source in order that you don’t travel on the ‘journey of expectation management’ in a way that causes you to end your journey in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in the wrong way!

That makes everyone a little ‘grumpy’ I think.


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