The Perception of Success is Largely a Matter of Lowering Expectations – John Kinser

“Dad, just so you know… I think I probably failed the test, may drop the class, ruin my GPA, loose the scholarship for the summer, and it’s the end of the world as we know it!

Most every family has one, an over-achiever that makes the rest of us look like slackers. In my family this role is filled by one of my daughters, Nova. This young lady graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and was not even in the running for valedictorian. Although she excels at many things her true forte has always been expectation setting.

All parents have had to face the struggle of letting children grow into independence while attempting to maintain enough oversight to insure their safety. Modern parents face the additional challenges of 24×7/multi/social/go anywhere/always on media and communications. We turn them loose with every possible tool and opportunity to maintain contact and one simple plea; “Just stay in touch and let us know what you are up to.” While we had to occasionally resort to draconian measures with the other two kids for not keeping us informed, this was never an issue with Nova. Every time our phone would ring my wife and I would exchange a knowing look denoting our standard prediction of who was on the other end. The majority of the time we were right.

TMI (too much information) vs. TLI (too little information) can be a continual struggle in both life and projects. The communications and stakeholder management plans are our primary tools to help us balance the information needs of individual stakeholders with our goal being JEI (just enough information). Running projects (including childrearing) has emphasized the importance of using every interaction with stakeholders as a chance to reset expectations and align perception with reality. Although this post title is somewhat tongue in cheek, real world projects will often necessitate adjusting those expectations downward.

In the South we call this “poor-mouthing”, and my daughter has raised it to an art form. Admittedly she initiated a challenging project when she decided to take in three weeks a summer calculus course that normally runs 15, but early and frequent updates helped us help her. We got her a tutor, convinced her to put the summer job on hold, and provided support by listening to her continual flow of concerns. She worked hard, tried her very best, and established a connection with the professor. By the end of the course she speculated that she probably got a C, maybe even B, but we would not know for two more weeks.

“Daddy, I have some news. I got an A in calculus! Aren’t you proud of me?”

“Yes Sweetie I am very proud… but I really expected no less.”

Managing stakeholder expectations is one key to project and program success. To learn about the others, join us for our upcoming webinar – Beyond the Core: Three Keys to Project and Program Success on June 22. Learn more.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post by John here – and this street runs two ways. Not only do we need to adjust people’s expectations of our anticipated outcomes…but we also need to be careful about not harboring unrealistic expectations ourselves. I’m guilty of having high expectations for both myself and others…and often need to level set using best case and worst case scenarios to arrive somewhere in the middle.