Why should you care?

You are surrounded by expectations - most of them unsaid.

Expectations are known to affect you emotionally as well as physically. Have you heard the story of a blind man who says expectations have helped him see? Yes, see!

The economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells, in their book Engineering Happiness, call it “the fundamental question” of wellbeing: happiness equals reality minus expectations. Raise expectations beyond reality’s capacity to meet them, and misery follows. The reverse applies, too: you can make people happier, studies suggest, by delivering bad news, then withdrawing it. Hence the car salesman trick: lure the customer with a deal; reveal it doesn’t apply to the car being considered; then have a word with your manager, who – hallelujah! – agrees to an exception. Relief triggers happiness, and a sale.

The hardest part of Expectation Management is understanding the expectations. They come in exhaustive forms and apply to so many areas of life and since they depends on the biggest variable which is us humans, you can go crazy trying to enumerate all the expectations. This article is for you software engineers. To set your expectations right *wink wink*, we would keep the focus narrow to your projects and your career.

Culture and Stereotypes

How is the culture like in your organization?

Is it process oriented and bureaucratic or is it a flat organization?

Each comes with different kinds of expectations and the norms vary from organization to organization.

In Navigating the Cultural Minefield, Erin Meyer has illustrated cultural expectations and how they can affect your success. Here’s a tool to help you understand your cultural profile - What’s your cultural profile?

An opportunity to stand apart from the crowd

Understanding the culture and stereotypes can help you play them to your advantage. How often have you heard the following?

“There are communication problems when dealing with Asian engineers”

Work on your written and spoken English (or whatever your customers speak natively).

Listening to podcasts like APM - Marketplace and This American Life is both informative about your American customers and fun at the same time.

Read literature, understand their pop culture and also listen to the news in their region to be able to have fun short conversations with your customers.

These bring out deeper connections in your relationship with your customers. It also avoids the awkward silence when your don’t get the joke!

Are you trying hard to please?

Have you been working 60 hour work weeks, working weekends and impressed everyone by delivering big results in just a few days unexpectedly? Have you answered emails at 2 AM in the morning and was lauded for your prompt reply?

Congratulations, you have set expectations for not just you but your peers as well!

Being mindful of extra-ordinary behaviors is very important in your process of managing the expectations. Ask yourself if you can sustain the behavior in the long-term. If the answer is “No”, then make sure that your boss or your customer understands that this is an exception based on urgency and not a norm.

The best services organizations have processes to raise tickets by urgency. Like one of our dev-ops team has two different email addresses - support@xyz.com for regular requests and emergency@xyz.com for urgent requests.

You can use indirect ways of expressing that you are going out of the way owing to your good judgement of urgency like “The matter seems very urgent and required a prompt reply and I’m with you to help”.

Constant communication and reporting

It is OK to cross-check unsaid assumptions with the expectations of the other person.

Here are a few questions that you can ask your boss:

How can I help make you successful?

What are your expectations from my role?

In an year from now, lets say we are celebrating success. What do you think we are celebrating about?

You should ask these to your customer:

What would success mean to you in short-term v.s. long-term?

You say that both these features are equally important, I would start working on feature A first and feature B following it. Is it OK?

We have a service level agreement to respond to your non-emergent queries in 2 business days. Would you be OK with it?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many hard-working people in my career. The most successful ones are known to align their efforts with the success of their boss and their customers.

My high school science teacher had a saying which I remember to date. She said - When you ASSUME - You make an ASS of U and ME.

Don’t assume that your boss and customer has figured out all their unsaid expectations. Use techniques like 5 Why’s to elicit requirements and get them to state the unsaid to avoid an expectation gap later.

The best time to deliver a bad news is now and the best time to deliver a good news is after the job is done. It is better to set the expectations low immediately when you know that the project is going to be late and then work day and night to deliver on time rather than work day and night to deliver on time without informing and then happen to deliver late.

Bring out the best in the people around you

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

- Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

After delivering several iterations of successful software delivery over the years, here’s what I’ve learnt -

Expect your employees to be mature and to deliver excellence and they conform.

Expect them to be dumb and lazy and they conform to that too.

The Agile Scrum way of project management requires self-organized teams which often means that the manager has to trust the team and relinquish close control and has been known to create high performance lean engineering teams. A lot of the success can be attributed to expectations.