If you're an instructional or media designer for training projects, you're probably very familiar with requests to develop quality courses in unrealistic timeframes. Quite often this happens when the person requesting the work is unfamiliar with the amount of effort involved. So what can you do?
Since perception of your performance equals reality to your customer, a request made with unrealistic expectations for the amount of time and work involved can be a real challenge for you. The danger of misunderstandings, missed deadlines, frustrations and ultimately poor perceptions of your ability are real.
So, how do you ensure success and not risk damaging your good reputation when dealing with this type of request? The answer is to manage customer expectations. One of the best ways to have happy customers is to be sure they know what to expect.
Techniques to Manage Expectations
The good news is that, no matter what your role is, managing expectations enables you to positively influence project outcomes. Practice these techniques and manage expectations with favorable results.
1. Know What You Can Deliver
Before committing to a project, know what you're capable of delivering. The only way to know this is to define the project and build a plan that addresses the specific needs for the project. After gaining a clear definition for the project you, should be able to accurately gauge the amount of effort involved, if you have the right resources and tools available and if the work you already have on your plate will conflict with milestones or deadlines. It's much better to openly discuss challenges that may prevent you from delivering and propose viable solutions up front than to disappoint a customer.
2. Educate Your Customer
Educating your customer is a very powerful tool in managing expectations because once you're both on the same page, you have a partner to your cause. Take the time to openly communicate, explaining what it takes to develop the product within the timeframe and to the agreed upon standard. You don't need to bore your customer with all the minutiae of your development processes, but the customer should understand that you use processes to ensure a quality product and avoid surprises. Also communicate any risks you foresee that may impact the project, such as dependencies, scope creep, unrealistic deadlines and the like. Communicating these things openly and honestly lets you prepare your client and discuss alternate options.
3. Negotiate Realistic Project Timelines
Throughout any project, the one thing you can count on is that there will be challenges, unresponsive contacts and unforeseen circumstances. Expect it and proactively plan for these types of exceptions in the project timeline you negotiate.
Consider and account for past experiences when estimating how long you think it will take to deliver your product. You can always deliver early and exceed the expectation. Being late, however, is not easily forgotten.
When negotiating a realistic project timeline, you should find out and understand the priority for each deliverable. Many times, certain deliverables are more important than others. Your customer might find it more advantageous from a business perspective to receive materials for one topic over another. Understanding the priority allows you to offer development for each of the deliverables based on a prioritized approach.
4. Communicate Project Risks
Project risks such as system or network unavailability, unresponsiveness, slow turnaround times for reviews or other unforeseen circumstances are common. Solicit feedback from the project stakeholders as a preventive measure to manage risk. Discussing fears, doubts and uncertainties about the project during the project kickoff may allow you devise a plan to resolve some risks before they occur.
5. Communicate Often
Frequent communication about the status of each deliverable and your progress at every step along the way to key project team players is crucial to managing expectations. Create a communication plan and environment where sharing ideas and discussing project details are routine.
6. Continuously Monitor Expectations
As projects progress, expectations can change due to any number of reasons...some of which include scope creep and loss of focus. Continuously monitor the project for changes in expectations and work to manage those expectations. Keep team members focused, and ensure they have a clear understanding of the objectives and project plan.
Try to anticipate problems or issues, and work to resolve them quickly. It's important to develop and communicate a risk management plan before issues occur. This provides project stakeholders with trust and comfort and allows everyone to know what steps to take when a problem arises. When a problem does come up, bring together all key personnel to determine the necessary resources to solve the problem, and swiftly execute the determined solution.
7. Deliver on Promises
Failure to deliver on promises will damage your customer's perception of your performance. It is as simple as that. Avoid the grief of not living up to customer expectations by developing and maintaining a reputation for making realistic commitments and standing by them.
Disclose all the details about a project throughout its lifecycle. This kind of transparency removes surprises from the equation and ensures you meet expectations because everyone understands the situation and knows what to expect.
No matter what your role is, you have more influence to impact customer expectations than you might think. Remember, you know best. Your customers are relying on your expertise, and it's up to you to help them understand what you need to create great results. Practicing these techniques to manage expectations gives you the power to develop documentation and training materials with praiseworthy results that exceed customer expectations.