It must say somewhere in our contracts that one of our Basic Services is “Expectation Management;” yet I can’t find it. Humorously, it is as absent as the ‘respect’ in a statement starting with “I mean you no dis-respect,” or the ‘constructive’ element suggested by an offer of “constructive criticism.” Having failed to manage expectations is very different than having met expectations.
When client’s are dissatisfied, but don’t want to hurt our feelings, they often tell us we could have managed their expectations better. Taken literally, is the client really saying we should have lowered expectations for a project; and that if we had managed their expectations (downward) and then met a lower expectation, the client would have been more pleased with our performance? Perhaps, but I think the goal of meeting (or exceeding) expectations has been unwittingly replaced with that of managing expectations. We keep report cards on projects, and we did not think to include a ‘managed expectations’ review category – our grading occurs exclusively along the scale of performance and whether we met expectations, not how well we managed (or manipulated) expectations.
This does not mean our partners don’t demand expectation management. It’s the language of our time, and clients deserve to know at the onset how things are predicted to unfold, and they often rate our management of their expectations of the project just as sincerely as actual performance. We, too, participate in this, by working diligently to set expectations, which is at the very essence of programming. Working with our time, quality, money triangle at the beginning of a project is one example. Our categorization of project types of A, B, or C is another. Setting expectations, and even better, goals, is essential. The quality of this type of programming leads to meeting or exceeding expectations through performance.
While we have learned that over-promising and under-performing is damaging to relationships and reputations, the corollary approach of under-promising and over-delivering is a fundamentally non-optimistic way to approach creative endeavors. The answer, therefore, is simple. Communicate clearly, perform well, meet and exceed reasonable expectations; and, therefore, have fewer unmet expectations to manage.