Managing Expectations – Avoiding the Dilbert Experience

Will Lukang, PMP, CSM, MBA, MASCL

Everyone at the workplace reports to someone. Even the CEO of the company is accountable to someone – the stakeholders. I’ve not met anyone in the workplace that does not answer to anyone. Therefore it is important to manage the expectations of the people you report to.

This reminds me of the Dilbert comic strip in which the pointy-haired boss told Dilbert that he could not give him the highest raise because he did not exceed his expectations. Dilbert countered that if pointy-haired boss knew he could achieve the goal, he would have set it a lot higher. This way Dilbert could not exceed his expectations. In the end, Dilbert surmised that either pointy-haired boss was incompetent at setting goals or he did achieve the highest goal, therefore he deserved the highest raise. At this point, the pointy-haired boss asked, “What are the choices again?” Is this all too familiar in our workplace? You work really hard throughout the year only to find out later that you did not met the expectation. To avoid this situation, you need to manage your manager’s expectation.

So, how do we manage expectations?

Step one: We need to set goals. In this step, you need to have a dialogue with your manager/ stakeholders and define the goals as well as the success criteria. The goals should follow the SMART rule. That means they should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time bound.

Step two: We need to monitor our progress and provide a status report as to how we are progressing. What are our challenges encountered? Do we need help in removing roadblocks? We need to document issues and provide a progress report. Progress report does mean a formal report, but a bullet-point list would do for stating the tasks or activities and describing the progress made to date.

Step three: Feedback discussion step provides you the opportunity to assess your situation and adjust accordingly. It also provides each party the opportunity to raise issues and address concerns in a timely manner. You must be committed to follow through and seek comments and suggestions. In order to be successful in managing expectations, you need to communicate and be willing to accept criticism, take the criticism, and create an actionable solution to address it.

By managing expectations throughout the year, we would know better where we stand. It is fair to say that having good managers/stakeholders is important. Sometimes bad managers can make managing expectations a challenge because they cannot make up their minds. Just like the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert. Please let me know what you think of this post.

 

Rescuing Troubled Projects

Will Lukang, PMP, CSM, MBA, MASCL

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend of mine thanking me for sharing my blog.   I was glad to hear from readers of my blog, because I want to know what they think of my blog and how I can improve it.   As it turned out, she suggested a couple of topics, which I will be featuring over the next month or so.  One of the topics that jumped out is rescuing troubled projects.   This resonates with me because I worked on such a project in 2008.  In accordance with the theme of my blog, I’d like to share my experience on managing a troubled project.

 

In September of 2007 I was approached by one of our senior managers to step in and help revitalize a failed project.   I ask about the background of the project and was told that two prior managers requested to be transferred out of the project and the current manager quit the job.   The project was due by December and at the rate the project was going it was bound to miss its deadline.  I was also made aware that our business users were extremely unhappy about the progress.

 

As a person from the outside looking in, I was intrigued by the issue.  How could we have two managers ask to be transferred and a third one quitting the project?  What was unique about this project that caused it to be in a state of disarray?  While for most people such a project would be off limits because of the bad impression that comes with it, I was drawn to it because I felt would give me an opportunity to learn something new.  Besides it is my attitude to always try to look for the positive side of every situation.  At that time I was thinking this can’t get any worse and it will provide me an opportunity to learn and connect with others.

 

When I was first introduced to the development team, my initial thought was to understand their perspective as to how things were and what was going on.   I could sense that there were a lot of frustrations all around.   One of the team leads expressed concern that I would be their fourth manager for the year.    They believed there was inconsistency and a lack of support for their wellbeing.  The overall mood of the team was not good and they were all unmotivated.   The frustration was preventing people from focusing on the possibility of moving forward and there was a dark cloud hovering over their heads.   They also questioned how I could be different from the other three managers that preceded me.    I told them that I was there to understand what was going on and work with them to achieve our goal.

My first meeting with the business users did not go well—as expected.   They wanted to see what we had developed to date, but when we showed them what we had, one of them went off the deep end and told me I had no idea about the requirements.   Truth be told, I really had no idea, being new to the team, but I calmly apologized and explained that I was doing my best to get caught up and it would help me understand how we failed to meet there expectation and what we need to address in the near term.

 

Here are the steps I took to help the team achieve its goal:

  • Seek to understand the concerns of all the team members – I believe this is the most important thing.  It is like seeing through a different lens and understanding their perspective. I had three team meetings to air things out then I followed it up with one-on-one with everyone.  During the team meeting we discussed everything related to the projects and their concerns.  No topic was off limits.   I did this because I want to get their honest opinion.  I spent about two weeks to meet and analyze the issues and concerns.   I then report back to the team my findings and we discuss our action items to address the issues.
  • Seek to understand why the managers left.  As it turned out, the business user was really hard to work with, but I stayed calm no matter the situation.  I realized that you can’t take anything said to you personally.   If you’re able to keep your emotion in check, you will actually see things differently.  It was not easy, but I knew that was the best way to succeed.  I liken it to the price of admission when watching a movie.  You have to decide if the price of admission is worth the challenges ahead.
  • Meet with all stakeholders to understand what went wrong.  Collect the information and share it with your team.   The team then came up with action items that we executed to ensure we were moving in the right direction.
  • Maintain full transparency and open channel of communication.  Engage people and seek their opinions and make sure they have a say in what’s going on.   Integrity is the foundation of our relationship.  If the people working with us cannot trust us, we will not make any progress.
  • Assess the situation and determine the true current state.   Communicate that to the business and determine the next logical state.  Keep communicating with the business and discuss possible compromise.
  • Reach agreement as to what needs to be delivered and channel everyone’s attention to getting the job done.
  • Provide weekly team meeting to discuss issues.  Be consistent and make sure everyone has an input.
  • Set up weekly business meetings to discuss any open issues and work toward addressing those issues in a timely manner to gain the confidence of the business folks.  In essence, work toward earning their confidence in you and your team.
  • Avoid compromise for the sake of compromising.   Once the scope is agreed upon, the team must focus and work together to get the job done.
  • Mediate and facilitate every issue that comes up.  Do not let it linger because it will affect the team. Conduct brainstorming sessions and make sure to encourage everyone to share their ideas.   Bring issue to the forefront and address it as soon as possible.  Do not hold back information from you business counterpart.
  • As the new manager, you need to provide hope and inspire everyone to continue the project.  How can you do this?  By showing them you’re one of them and you’re not there to just give orders to everyone.  In my case, I helped in verifying requirements, updating the documentation, testing and working alongside everyone to show them that I’m really there for them.

 

I always remember Henry Ford’s quote, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”    Just like the saying, you need to help the team come together and renew their desire to work as a team and deliver.   As the leader of the team, your job is to keep them together by mediating and facilitating any issues that my come up.   It is important to keep communicating.   Share good news and bad news and praise your people for what they accomplish.  The last point is,  if we can keep the team working together, we can achieve greater things.

 

In the end, we delivered multiple phases of the project and we had fun doing it.   It was the most fun I had working on any project.  We had a sense of camaraderie and everyone felt like a family.  As life’s journey brought me, I was asked to run another project in September 2008.   I still do reflect on the successes of that team and how we overcome the odds and made it happen.   As you read this blog post, what are the things that you can relate with?  Please share your thoughts and let me know what sort of topics are you interested in.

 

Effecting a Change

By Will Lukang, PMP, CSM, MASCL, MBA

In my over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology industry, I’ve worked on two continents and for various industries.   Many of those companies provided me opportunities and exposures that helped me throughout my career.    This, coupled with my desire for continued learning, experience and my journey in pursuing the Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership (MASCL) from Seton Hall University has helped me developed to be the leader that I desired.

In the past I would differentiate myself through my regular work.  It’s all about delivery and getting things done.  For the most part that was good enough. However in 2007 many of our programmers were leaving the firm to seek better opportunity elsewhere because they were offered opportunities to use new technology.    That was the tipping point; as a manager I did not want to lose out to our competitors.    I came up with the idea of forming a developer community forum (DCF) to enable developers to collaborate, share their knowledge and connect with one another.   I approach one of the senior executives to sponsor my idea.   After a few weeks I was given the green light to set up the forum.  It is the turning point for me as a change agent.   I had the fire and desire to make it happen.

The forum was first formed with 40 members, but after a couple of months, only a group of 12 people were actively participating.     Amazingly, the 12 people came up with four training classes within four months.   I came to the realization that sometimes management nominates people whom they think are the best in their group, but those people are not necessarily the people who can be change agents.   In the core group of twelve, only ½ of them were members who were nominated to the forum; the rest joined after the forum was created.   Those members who were not nominated are the most active members who made a difference in the firm.

What is my point?  Not everyone is a change agent.   It does not mean that if you’re the best in your team, you’re a change agent.  Change agents are people who care to go above and beyond.  They care for the greater good of the organization, beyond the confines of their team and projects.  It is beyond getting their job done.   Amazingly change agents are usually excellent performer on their teams.   They are willing to stretch the envelope and get more things done to help others and ultimately help their organization.

The forum has been in existence for over 2 ½ years.   We have saved the firm in training by offering training developed and taught by our members.  The savings for two years is about $600,000.   We also hosted two developer conferences and joined other endeavors to promote and showcase the talent of our developers.

We recently had a meeting to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders.   The meeting went well and a couple of members stepped up to be the new leaders.    I’m glad to step aside and work in the background to let others showcase their talents.   I learned a lot from this experience and came to realize that change agents can be anyone.  The key to being a change agent is CARING.  The key ingredients to enabling change are caring and passion to making a difference.

In the end, I had Bobby to thank for the success that I had.   Without his support, we would not have been able to achieve our goal.   Change agents need a champion.    The champion is the one that facilitates the change and the change agents are the ones to make it happen.