One of my first experiences dealing with a technology customer involved a request to deliver and install a new PC and printer. During the process I expected I would need to educate the user on the features of Windows 3.1. This was before I ever really started working in technology in a full-time capacity. While this sounds like a ridiculously easy task, I quickly learned one of the key mistakes that is regularly made in our industry. That mistake is appropriately setting expectations.
Arriving with the new PC and Printer, I quickly learned the following about my tasks for the evening.
- User Expected all of their applications moved (including a Dos based Database that was critical to their organization)
- Computer being replaced only had an old 5.25 low density floppy drive
- New PC only had 3.5 inch floppy
- Old Internal Hard Drive was MFM, eliminating the possibility of moving it to the new PC with IDE interfaces
- There was an expectation that a second monitor and keyboard could be installed to provide “mainframe” like capability to a second user
- The new printer wasn’t to be installed on the new PC, but needed to be installed on a PC at another location
- User was obviously non-technical and solution needed to work flawlessly
After the initial visit, I quickly determined that I didn’t have what I needed and would have to return. Upon returning and I worked through the logistics of copying the database over a serial connection (using an old dos application). Additionally, I made a couple of trips to the other location to support the printer. Even though I put forth a solid effort, I think the customer was only moderately satisfied.
In technology, it can be very difficult to set the expectations and define what “winning” looks like. In my transaction, the stakes and potential profit were rather low. Therefore, something was committed to without fully understanding the requirements and expectations. While one might argue that this is just a calculated risk with a low profit transaction, others would point out that word of mouth travels far and fast.
I’d probably make the argument that a deal that isn’t worth setting the expectations is a deal that should be walked away from. This article is not about turning these scenarios into consulting revenue. This article is about proclaiming the risks of not setting expectations. While my story is quite easy to follow, bigger deals regularly go down without defining what the deal really is. Think about your own environment and place of work.
Truthfully answer these about your work
- Do you know how your employer defines winning for you? And for the organization?
- Have you communicated your (and the organization’s) expectations to employees you lead?
- If you deal with customers, do you understand what they expect? How about your colleagues who interface with customers?
- Do your customers or co-workers understand what the limitations are?
This might seem a bit elementary. However, I’d estimate that every reader who has been in technology for any amount of time has similar stories to share. Some of those experiences may be a 15 minute service call, while others may be multi-million dollar deals. And while your employment isn’t a project per se, it is most certainly an area where the expectations should be clearly communicated and understood. No one wants to be working toward the wrong goals. Therefore, it is important to share what you can and plan to deliver while determining if it meets what the expectations of your employer or customers.