Posts Tagged ‘expectations’

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” It is a saying common when being audited in complex situations. How does it come about and what can be done?

The “how” usually comes about through time- and emotional distances disconnecting senior management and those doing the work. It becomes increasingly easy to over-simplify and lose touch with all the nuances associated with getting a job done.

There is another element to this as well. It has to do with expectations. Everyone has pressure from someone else. The Board has to deal with shareholders. The CEO has to deal with the Board…the SME (subject matter expert) has to deal with the PM. Part of those dealings includes projecting budgets. These budgets are typically used in determining bonuses, profit sharing, etc. Expectations are set.

Expectations can have a dark side. Let me explain. A piece of wisdom learned a long time ago is, “Plan without expectations.” In its simplest form this means putting together as good a plan as possible but also take risk management into consideration by thinking about what would be done if the expectations fail to be met. Doing this helps let go of investing entirely in the projections. It allows for options and also helps level set in terms of dealing with the unfairness of life should those expectations fail to be met.

Work As Imagined

“Work as imagined” refers to thinking things are simpler than they are. It is a simplistic approach arising from over-investment in the desired outcome. This “counting the chickens before the eggs have hatched” approach leads to blindness. The blindness is an unwillingness to consider just how challenging situations truly are and insist things are simple.

So what does this mean for an audit? It boils down to this. The more one invests in a given outcome to the exclusion of all else the greater the projection onto the team the situation is simple. By simple I mean how it is used in complexity theory, i.e., a rule-based system that is 100% predictable in terms of outcome. Consequently, any mistakes or failures have to do with not adhering to the rulebook. Individuals can be called out and dealt with accordingly.

Work As Performed

On complex projects the way work gets done is summed well in the catch phrase, “living on the edge of chaos.” “Work as performed,” means catch as catch can, trying to balance all the forces pushing on the project. It is anything but predictable! Those forces are gauged on a daily or even hourly basis and the team works to respond accordingly. There is a moving from rulebook to rulebook or a complete dropping of the rules with changing circumstances. Keep in mind, there are probably one or more stakeholders invested in each rulebook!

This brings us back to the opening statement, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” It gets down to a key distinction in resilient situations: anticipation vs. anticipatory awareness.

The Way Out

Anticipation is all about getting hung up on the projections, believing they are cast in stone. Anticipatory awareness is the freedom to flex with the situation, make necessary changes on the fly, and respond in a constructive manner to the changing forces. Expectations must frequently shift in complex environments. This doesn’t mean goals can’t be met. It does mean goals may have to be modified based on the realities present. It does not mean an acceptance of second-best. It means adaptability. This is summed up well in the statement, “Railroads might still be leading the Dow Jones if they had seen themselves in the transportation business rather than the train business.”

The solution to this is communications, communications grounded in an honest empathy for what everyone is going through in light of the realities present. In its simplest form it comprises a meeting of the minds between the business case and project plan. Imagine brown bag meetings where management presents the business model used to generate the context for the project. Imagine another brown bag session where the project manager presents the reality of the project. Go a step further and imagine each side listens to the other and modifies expectations accordingly. This is the key. It has to do with common ground, common ground serving as the basis for communications and realistic accountability, common ground that shifts with the risk terrain.

Project Reality Check #16: The Folly of Audits

by Gary Monti on April 5, 2011

“No good deed shall go unpunished,” is crazy but commonly experienced. Why is that? Why would an audit trigger punitive measures? After all, when doing one’s best it would seem safe to assume the value of the work would be recognized and would show in the numbers. This could be considered especially true with this series of blogs since earned value has been trumpeted as the heart of project management. So what is the problem? The purpose and value of reports is a good place to start.

Reports And The Meaning of Numbers

Why have reports? Simple, they sustain communications in a relationship especially when everyone can’t be together at the same time. Consequently, numbers are abstracts – distillates – of a relationship. And now the plot thickens! Communications are complex, multi-channeled, multi-contextual activities. Look at the simple joke:

Take my wife…please!

How many layers (contexts) does that joke have? It has at least two. The joke is in the collision of those contexts. Unfortunately, when that collision of contexts occurs on the job it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. The folly occurs in this collision. It puts very sharp teeth in the bite of “no good deed shall go unpunished.” So, what does this have to do with audits and reports? Plenty. It has to do with context and expectations.

Context and Expectations

So when do audits and reports go haywire?

Audits and reports go haywire when they are laden with expectations that fail to map to the reality of what it takes to get the job done or the reports project an inaccurate balance between all the contexts present.

Looking at the cause of all this will help.

The Devil Is In The Dynamics

There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” There is truth in it. However, it doesn’t cover all situations.

For complex projects the devil is in the dynamics. The failures and flaws are not with the individual person or component. Rather, they exist in the dynamics between the organization and operations.

Most reports are designed to address what senior management believes are the policies and procedures, which are based on management’s expectations. Typically, this is all laid out at the concept and design phase. When a system goes into operations, though, a new element comes into play – reality. Think of the Mars rovers and all that has been done to keep them operational. Unforeseen problems had to be solved. This has led to a much longer life expectancy for the rovers than was ever anticipated. No one is going around blaming scientists and engineers for the problems encountered per the original plan. Instead they are being recognized for throwing themselves into the problems and coming up with solutions. Some work, some don’t. Looks like one rover is down for the count. Overall, though, the program has been a great success.

Listen For The Solution

A chapter can be taken from the Mars situation in generating a solution to poor audits.

The solution to poor audits is in listening; listening for how people work to get things done in spite of the system.

Again, reports are distillates of relationships. This means communication, which is a two-way street. Yes, senior management needs to determine the direction the company needs to go but this should be tempered by and informed from the wisdom and experience of those in the trenches, unless, of course, the managers are clairvoyant. My recollection, though, is years ago Madam Cleo tried that on her cable channel and went bankrupt.

Project Reality Check #15: The Requirements Game

by Gary Monti on March 29, 2011

Nailing down requirements is the number one complaint of project managers. Addressing this requires two skills: political adroitness and finding a balance point between exploring solutions and exploiting what is known and available. I’d like to share some from a workshop I provide on decision-making in uncertainty.

Political Adroitness

A mantra regarding project requirements goes something like this,

“Requirements are stated needs, expectations are unstated needs. Clients tend to judge based on expectations.”

For example, a common retail experience is a customer picking a $20 pan from a display that includes $200 triple-clad pans. The expectation frequently is quality-by-association. As you might guess, the customer ends up disappointed because food cooks unevenly, burns, and sticks to the pan. They return to the store angry that misrepresentation occurred and they want their money back, at a minimum, or demand the $200 pan at no extra charge, at the extreme.

When something similar occurs on a project the best way to deal with it is by leaning into the situation as quickly as possible. The longer the expectation is held, the greater potential for damage in the relationship. Do this is by offering possible “straw” scopes. These are scopes that fit within the time and money parameters established and meant as much for example as anything else. This can take several iterations.

Initially, the goal is getting the client to see the expectations just don’t match the time, money, and resource limits established. In other words, see if they will shift their view and do it in such a way the relationship stays intact. When acceptance of the need to shift sets in, then drive towards THE scope that appears to work.

The reason “appears” is used is simple. The scope has yet to be drilled down to clear requirements that can be turned into specifications. Which leads to another aspect of political adroitness – working with the team.

The team needs to be involved in creating the scoping alternatives because they are the ones ultimately shouldering the responsibility. As you might have already guessed, having a good working relationship with team leads and subject matter experts is critical. If these relationships are absent team members can simply say the requirements aren’t clear, take a passive-aggressive position, and leave the project manager hanging.

The Explore/Exploit Balance

In complexity theory the above falls under the “explore/exploit balance.” This is where the risk comes into play. Typically, there is insufficient time to explore all options. On the flip side, the team may run into conflict and severe limitations if they dive in based on using what has worked in the past. The solution is best when the customer, project manager, and the team all share the risk. In other words a balance is needed; one that is optimal and spreads the benefits equally with the difficulties.

To recap, it isn’t enough to simply say the client should be realistic and not expect a $20 pan to perform like a $200 one. The PM and team need to push as far as they can working with the client in developing a realistic solution – one that will save reputations, relationships, and pocket books as well as produce the desired deliverable.

Powerlessness brings its own power.  A word of caution is needed, though. Using the power that comes with powerlessness can stir up a hornet’s nest. Having said that, let’s dive in.

“One Question” Revisited: The Short Version

In the previous blog, Frame of Mind, one question was mentioned as being central, “What happens when you follow the rules?” A variation of that question applies here.

What rules apply to this project, how do you see them used, and what is your part?

Ask this of the stakeholder population from client(s) to team members. Look at what is required for the project to succeed. Perform a gap analysis and, voila, you will have a picture of just how far the project can or can’t go. Publish the picture. Do what you can.

There, that was easy. Or was it?

“One Question” Revisited: The Long Version

An important character trait was left out of the mix, one that turns things on their collective head – Expectations. People want what they want when they want it. This includes expecting underfunded, understaffed, underspecified, time-pressured sows ears (contracts) being turned into silk purses (deliverables).

What to do? If the project manager has enough authority then that is sufficient to create the necessary change orders. Without that authority the project manager needs substantial power from another source – himself. The necessary character traits include:

  • Acceptance which answers the question, “What can we do with the committed resources we have? If you listen hard you’ll hear earned value in the background;
  • Willingness to speak honestly without being judgmental is delivering that picture mentioned above. The project is as it is;
  • Humility is very important. It simply is – stating personal, team, and project limits. It also has another aspect, which shows up when combined with the next character trait;
  • Courage is the ability to stick with all of the above in the face of expectations. Humility comes into play with courage when the bombardment of expectations starts raining down. The PM can speak something like this, “You seem very confident this can be accomplished and have stated the team SHOULD be able to do it. Why do you believe that? Who has succeeded at this before? I need to seek them out and learn.”

There is a responsibility with this last approach, i.e., efforts to do the ear-purse conversion have been tested and legitimate barriers have been reached or there is credible lessons-learned available that bring into doubt the probability of success. At the very least a good resource assessment has been performed and comes up wanting.

What To Do

Stay with the humility by avoiding saying, “No.” Simply state what is needed to achieve the goals.  Approach from a humble position. It shows respect and empathy. Keep the focus on the gap. Whatever you do, keep the conversation open and stay with trying to make things work. But also stay humble and avoid turning away from the limits of the situation.

Caution: Avoid Magical Thinking

I want to close this blog with words from one of my mentors from long ago, “When there is no project let go of the situation BEFORE you get the ulcer. No amount of badgering, whining, aggression, or anxiety can magically multiply commitments. Others have to pony up. As PM you are one person who can work maybe 50 or more hours for brief periods.”

It’s simple. Stay in touch with the real limits and don’t flinch. Now, that is hard!

I’ve heard few authors say that they “found the time” to write their book! Time is not something you “find,” like a needle in a haystack (or, the New World).

Instead, time to write is something you create, and you create time using tools like planning, commitment, and efficiency.

Here’s a proven, 4-step process for making the time to write that works for me, and many of my clients.

1. Start with a plan

Whether you’re writing a book or a blog post, progress comes quicker when you know what you want to write before you sit down to write.

Your “plans” don’t have to be elaborate, and they don’t have to be formal. As you can see from the content plan I created at the start of this series, a simple mind map is enough to provide a framework for your writing success.

Likewise, if you’re starting a book, your plan might be as simple as a list of the 10 chapters you’re going to include in your book, plus the 7-10 main ideas (or topics) you’re going to discuss in each chapter.

For example, I just added a copy of a mind map I created a few years ago for a major project to my Active Garage Resource Center. It was one of my first maps, but it was enough to sell the project and help me write the project on time.

2. Commit to daily progress

Once you have created a content plan, or framework, the next step is to forget everything you ever heard about deadline-based “writing marathons.” Likewise, forget about “getting away” to write a book and myths like “I write better under pressure.”

I’ve interviewed hundreds of successfully branded authors, and the majority of them don’t believe coffee-inspired writing marathons. Instead, they commit to consistent daily progress, often in working sessions as short as 30 minutes.

Books are best written in short, daily working sessions, not stressful marathons!

It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 30-minute working sessions if you know what you’re going to write about. The act of creating a content plan, activates your brain so it is constantly working in the background, sifting and organizing ideas, searching for the right words, while you’re doing other tasks during the day, and when you’re driving or sleeping.

Fewer expectations equal less stress

One of the reasons that short working sessions are so productive is that there is less stress- -primarily performance anxiety- -involved in short 30-minute working sessions than in vacations or weekends. One of the reasons for this is that if you only expect to write a page or two during a working session, you’re not as likely to be disappointed.

But, if you have vowed to write a book over the summer at a vacation cabin, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Why? Because the expectation of a completed book leads to the worrisome thought, What do I do if I don’t finish my book? Won’t I be a failure? Won’t people laugh?

Likewise, expecting to write a book during weekends and holidays, creates guilt-based stress because you’re not spending time with your family.

3. Harvest your time

Begin by taking an inventory of your time, locating specific time periods each day when you can commit to 30 minute working sessions. Look for opportunities like:

  • Getting up 30-minutes earlier each day, preferably before the family gets up.
  • Staying up 30-minute later each night.
  • Arriving at the office 30-minutes earlier and closing the door.
  • Taking your lunch with you, and eating a sandwich at your computer.
  • Taking your laptop to a coffee shop or bookstore café during breaks or mealtime.

Then, make both public commitment of specific times each weekday. Don’t say, I’m going to write a little every morning! Instead, specify, I’m going to get to my office by 8:30 AM and check my messages or e-mail until 9:00!

Your daily writing sessions don’t have to be at the same time each day; your working sessions on Monday might be between 7:30 and 8:00 AM, but your Tuesday working sessions might be 8:00 PM to 8:30 while the family is watching television.

Once you’ve made a commitment to daily progress, and shared it with others, you’ll find it much easier to keep your project on track.

4. Track your progress

Since we all find the time to do what we want to do, it’s important that you keep yourself motivated.

That’s why the final step is to find a way to demonstrate your daily progress. One of the ways you can do this is to add a check-mark, or a strike-through, to indicate finished chapters and topics on your content map.

Another way to show progress is to print what you’ve just written during each writing session on 3-hole punched paper, and store them in a 3-ring binder.

Each time you open the binder and insert new pages, you’ll enjoy a feeling of accomplishment, as you see your finished pages mounting up.


All the “how to write” books and workshops in the world won’t get your book written if you don’t make the time to make the time to actually write your book. The 4-step process of planning your content, commiting to short, daily working sessions, harvesting your time, and tracking your progress is a formula that works. But, it’s up to you to put the process to work!

Branding – What’s the point?

by Laura Lowell on October 1, 2009

whats the point brandingWe’re all bombarded with thousands of messages each day – personally and professionally. Maybe it’s because of new media like Twitter, LinkedIn or FaceBook. Maybe it’s the internet in general.  Whatever the cause, the effect is the same. The volume of marketing messages is overwhelming to most Americans. In fact, 60 percent have signed up for the do-not-call registry; 33 percent have installed Web pop-up blockers, and nine percent have signed on to a do-not-e-mail list (and 40 percent may want to). So the question is: “How do you break through in this environment?”  One answer: Branding.

Everyone has a different definition of branding – everything from your logo, your message, to your visions and personality.  Each of these is correct in a way.  My definition (just so we’re clear) is that a brand is a promise; a promise of authenticity and value and sets our expectations about the product or service we associate with the brand.

That’s all well and good, but here’s the real question:  What’s the point of having a catchy slogan if it doesn’t strengthen or support your business? Why invest in PR if it doesn’t translate into increased awareness and recognition? Why go to trade shows if they don’t produce high-quality leads? Branding, or a promise to your customers, is a way to differentiate yourself in a crowded market so your company can sell more stuff.  Short and simple.

Independently, without a coherent brand strategy, these tactics do little to attract customers and drive revenue. However, as part of an integrated brand and marketing strategy, these and other tactics are the foundation that will deliver results for your business. Sounds simple, right? Well, often the simplest things are the hardest to do.

Here are three things you can do today to make sure your brand is doing it’s job – helping your company sell more stuff.

  1. Look at your website: Is your brand consistently applied on your website?  Do you use the same logo, or do you have multiple logos scattered about the place?  What about your messaging, are you delivering similar yet different messages and confusing your customers?
  2. Ask 10 people what they think: You want to know what they think your brand stands for.  Hopefully you get similar responses, and hopefully they are right on target.  If not, well, you have more work to do.
  3. Step out of the box: Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Step outside your company and look at what’s going on around you.  Is your brand relevant in today’s market?  Are you linking with current events and trends?

Marketing should get people’s attention, and convince them to consider your company’s products or services over the competition. An integrated brand including strategy, messages, visual identity, and other marketing tactics extends the impact of your marketing investments. You can more efficiently and effectively improve awareness, produce leads and ultimately drive revenue. After all, isn’t that the point?