Expectations and Communication

Expectations can be good, but I’ve seen many times when they are a core problem. 

When your boss thinks you can code the next rocket into space, but you’ve only learned how to start the coffee maker….When you think you should be promoted but your boss thinks you’ve only barely learned to do your current job on your own….When you’re expected to answer 100 phone calls an hour, there’s only you, and each call lasts 5 minutes.….When you’re expected to smile every moment of your day, but you are coming down with the flu….You were hired to be the project manager but now you’re the personal assistant to the Vice President.

I could go on – these are all real and I’ve seen every one of them.

Communication, communication, communication.  It is the most important thing we need, and it is the most difficult thing to do.

If the expectations are off, then you must speak up.  Every day that they remain out of line, the gap widens as bitterness and the feelings of unfairness grow.  An easy first step is to write up what you see.  Be careful to use phrases such as “I believe” and “what I’ve seen” because you do not know everything, and you do not see everything.  Sleep on it, make sure there are no ‘very’, ‘never’, or ‘always’ and remove all the strong adjectives – they make everything harder. Then, send it off asking for some time on their calendar.  This method gives the other party time to adjust to what you want to say and what you want them to hear.  Most likely, they’re experiencing frustration too, so they need a moment to get past their own issues and begin to problem solve with you.

When you’re the most frustrated, it’s pretty much guaranteed to mean that there is critical information you don’t have.  This critical information will make everything make sense.  And that’s what you’re hoping to get.  In the process of finding out more information, the expectations will be identified, and most likely will get adjusted to become closer to reality.

In some cases, you’ll find out where your own lines are.  Maybe that VP is a narcissistic and you need to find a new job.  Maybe you’re the only one answering the calls because everyone else quit as your management is not concerned with your well-being.  It is always best to find these things out quickly especially as it will help reduce your own bitterness.

Communication, communication, communication.  It’s everything.

DEADLINES – how to survive

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines…it’s a constant in our work life.  Mix those in with home life to do’s and mandatory schedules – ‘I promised a date with my spouse tonight’! How do we survive?!?!

I do two things:

1)      Acknowledge there are seasons or cycles to everything.  Marketing is going be busy in the fall.  Selling is going to be heavy in the holidays.  Accounting is every winter/spring.  Kiddo’s sports/events/theater is every spring and fall.  You get the picture.  Somethings will get caught in that crunch – be kind to yourself and others.  It’s expected if you’re in the right frame of mind.

2)      Prioritize based on those cycles. 

Life: If you’re a tax accountant, a vacation in February is not a great idea.  But one in May – much appreciated and much more enjoyable.  Kiddo’s game on April 14???? – talk about it ahead of time.  When cycles collide, have someone else clean the house, increase your budget for takeout, make extra meals before hand for easy lunches. 

Work: Despite what it may feel like, not all deadlines are real and not all deadlines need to be kept – this is the secret.  Which ones are not real and not needing to be kept are something you learn.  In the meantime, talk to your boss(es) and explain the constraints (not the family ones) and find out which ones can slip.

Bottom line – be open, be honest, see what’s ahead of you so you’re prepared.  Being hit by a Mac truck that you could have avoided completely sucks!!!  That’s why you have to slow down.

 

Culture

I was told once by a consultant who specialized in culture, that when she looked around everything pointed to culture as the problem and the solution.  I didn’t believe her.  I thought everything was about being productive and working together because that’s what mattered to me.

When I looked at what, how, why I do (Thank you to Simon Sinek), I found a system: What = Same Road, Same Time, Same Direction. How = I manipulate the fabric of team dynamics.  Why = Create Accountability.

When I put it all that together and saw the system I create – you can’t have a system of positive accountability unless you have a positive culture that supports it. 

The reason I can turn projects around, even ones that are going up in flames, is that I change the micro culture of the project and create a system of accountability.

company-culture 2

Project Plan as a RoadMap

I’ve done a lot of different project plans and I’ve seen a lot more.  I’ve seen people put in a series of status meetings as tasks which only front loads the project level % complete.  I’ve seen Sponsors want individual steps for each repeatable task put in the plan because they feared we would forget them.  I’ve done 5000-line project plans because there was that much to do.  I’ve done little 40-line ones that are very high level and just keep us on track.

All very purposeful and useful and very like a bean counter.

I wish MS project/SmartSheets/etc was more fluid and allowed for us to see past the tasks and look at the project as a river system with lots of small trickles and streams.  All leading into a large river that supported the environment and provided even more than what we originally needed.  Instead, I find projects get blocked and misguided due to not taking the time to do business requirements and not thinking through the design and not taking the time we need to be successful.  Of course, there are constraints of time, resources, and scope but we take short cuts and remove scope due to our misunderstandings and assumptions, so we produce small rivers that don’t support even our basic needs. 

What if we did the right thing from the beginning?  Is that so hard?

big river

Expectations

Expectations are TOUGH.  You need some of them but not too many of them and they need to be just above where you are, so you strive to be more but not too high and they need to be realistic, so you feel motivated.  How in the world can you make that work?  Especially as a matrixed project manager who doesn’t know these folks very well.

Expectations are CRITICAL. This is what gives your team the belief that they can do it.  But, can also demotivate them if it feels out of reach or not presented with appropriate belief.

How do you find that balance? You listen.Expectations