Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Unrealistic Expectations

You’re just getting started on the development of an exciting new product or program. The product/program definition isn’t really flushed out yet and the real magnitude of the project is not understood, but everyone, including you, is energized about the prospects of what this new product/program can bring to the company. Senior management says they really have to have this product/program by a certain date in order to have the impact they would like. They ask you, as a manager or team member, if this can be achieved. Optimist that you are, not knowing all the details, and making some assumptions, you indicate that it may be possible. Congratulations! You have just set unrealistic expectations that you can be quite certain will not be met!

No one intends to set unrealistic expectations, but it happens all the time. Everyone wants new products/programs and projects delivered yesterday, with outstanding quality, even if they don’t have a clue about the amount of work involved in delivering a quality product/program that is aligned with critical business objectives. Team members are pressured to estimate what it will take to develop a product/program that is not fully (or even mostly) defined. When that estimate, for a still mostly unknown product/program, is viewed as too long (which is almost always the case), they are asked to pull time out of the schedule (see The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game). Then, as the product/program definition starts to come together, additional features and functions are identified and are determined to be mandatory. It is realized that the resources needed are not currently available. However, the end date (that was very broadly estimated in the first place, and then shortened by pressure applied early and continuously) is not allowed to be modified, unless it can be pulled in. Assumptions and caveats are forgotten. [What happens when you "ass/u/me"? You make an "ass" of "u" and "me"!]  When your team leader tries to adjust the date, he will then hear from his leaders, "I didn't set the date, you did!" Many other departments become dependent on that date, and when you can''t deliver, it is entirely your fault. Then it turns into "Floggings" (see Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!).

How can unrealistic expectations be avoided or at least reduced?