Managing Great Expectations

failed projects, managing expectations

Sometimes there’s not much to celebrate!

Most change projects are wrapped in great expectations. They are designed to increase revenue, clients or efficiency, or stop the bleeding of expenses or resources. Not only are the projects expected to create change, but individual team members working on the project will usually have some career expectations tied to their participation, even if its just gaining notice for their work.

And yet, most projects don’t progress in a straight line. A+B+C does not always yield instant success. And sometimes what is created is an entirely different animal than the one you expected to create. The Lean Methodology is entirely based on this idea, that you will experiment, test with the public, and “pivot” your approach to design a product or project that meets the needs of the market. Groupon, the daily coupon site, started as an online activism platform called “The Point”, which was a failure and is now a publicly traded company which deals in discounted consumer goods and services.

Most projects in a corporate or government setting are not as easy to “pivot” based on the traditions, bureaucracies and politics involved, but its not unusual for a project to still become something very different from the original vision.

And some projects fail. Failures are sometimes hidden in a cloud of smoke, mirrors, shiny objects, beautiful press packages and discussions of the learning curve as a project quietly disappears. Others are very public disasters.

Pundits provide us with any number of pithy quotes to handle the great expectations of change, “Under promise and Over Deliver.” “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong” and “if you align your expectations with reality you will never be disappointed.” How you handle those expectations, both when things are going well, and when they are going very badly, is part of the skill you bring as a change leader.

Some projects will fail. Some will fail spectacularly. Others will have small pieces that work or sections that can be salvaged and repurposed but if you do this repeatedly, it’s important to understand that you will, indeed, fail at some point. And it won’t be fun. And sometimes a failure is just the jumping off place to a new adventure.

“Everything will be okay in the End, And if it’s not okay, it’s not the End.”

book by Jeanne Goldie

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015