Turning it up to 11
I was thinking last night about what it means, exactly to "exceed expectations" in my current projects and with my customer interactions. Looking back over my career, it’s an interesting exercise to think about those jobs and projects that were successful and those that were not so successful and try to understand the gaps between them.
I’ve been in technology for my entire career, and most of that in project management roles. I started out with a very aggressive, gung ho approach to project management, and learned a lot about how to interact with teams and sole contributors to get the information I needed to complete a task, how to provide the right information to my management team in a timely manner so that they had what they needed to make decisions, and – a very important lesson – when to drive versus when to let others drive. I’m still working on all of those things, of course, and on top of all of those things, I am always looking for ways that I can exceed expectations.
The problem with expectations is that you generally don’t know what those expectations are until you realize (or are informed that) you haven’t met them. The key learning here? Make sure you have thoroughly defined those expectations, and are vigilant in updating them — with your manager, your team, your customer. Next, meet them. Do your job. Deliver. Communicate changes to the timeline, important milestones that have been accomplished, and especially areas that may not meet the original model.
Having met the basic expectations of your project, start looking at stretch goals and areas for improvement and act on those ideas. One of the most important lessons I learned goes back to my telecom days. I worked on a massive project spanning about 18 months. The project was delivered a week ahead of schedule for about 10% less cost than planned….and yet the feedback from my manager upon completion was that none of the technical leads wanted to work with me again because I had pushed too hard, burned too many bridges in my drive for meeting the customer expectations. I had forgotten that my own team was also my customer — I had failed to understand all project expectations.
How can you exceed expectations if you don’t have a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve? Once you understand that baseline, you can start thinking about ways to go above and beyond your customer expectations.