We all have our own expectations.
When you purchase a pizza you expect it to taste good, to solve your hunger problem, and to arrive quickly.
But what if you had never bought a pizza before? Maybe you had never even eaten pizza, and only read about them in books.
You might expect a pizza comes whole and you need to slice it yourself.
Or you might expect that a pizza is always just tomato and cheese - and be surprised to find out you can actually get meat, mushrooms, or even pineapple on your pizza.
Everyone has expectations about everything - and your client is no different.
They may have never undertaken a digital project before. Or they may have done one previously, but with a development team that worked very differently.
Understanding and guiding your client's expectations are important to ensure a successful project delivery. In both your eyes, and in your client's eyes.
You can’t meet expectations you’re not aware of 🤷♂️
"Once you feel like you're being dictated by other people's expectations, it usually backfires.” – Rob Zombie, Musician
You don’t need to meet all your clients expectations, as some could be unrealistic or simply incorrect. But to deliver a “successful” project - you at least need to understand exactly what their initial expectations are.
The best time to do this with your client is at the very start of the relationship, so a Project workshop or a discovery call works well.
At the very start of these discussions, clients will want to talk about the functional requirements they are looking for. The project, the features, the colours etc.
This is obviously very important, but there are also some more subtle expectations you want to understand.
- What is a brief history of their business?
- Why are they looking to solve this now? (why not last year? why not next year?)
- Have they tried any alternatives? And why didn’t they work?
Without asking these questions, you may never know things like “In the next few years our business will be doubling in size”, so building this project now will help them scale.
Or you may never know “Actually, our business has been slowly losing money over the last 5 years, so by investing in a new website we really hope to turn that around”.
This knowledge is indispensable.
It also allows you to either make sure you deliver on these expectations, or reset those expectations (more on that later).
Besides the features, you also want to dig into expectations such as:
- What is the price range they are looking to spend to solve this problem?
- What is the range of time they need this problem solved in?
- Are they looking for an MVP? or something fully featured to last many years?
- With this project, what is the most important element to them,
- Price (getting it done as cheap as possible)
- Time (getting it done as fast as possible)
- Features (getting all the functionality they want)
- How hands-on can they be during the project (testing etc)
- Do they have any inspiration user interfaces (if a UI based project)
When uncovering this information you shouldn’t interrupt and tell them how you work (yet), as at this stage you simply want to collect the data - and get a baseline of what their expectations are.
You then need to set, and reset expectations 🎯
"Expectations are a form of first-class truth: If people believe it, it's true.” – Bill Gates
Once you understand your client's expectations, you now need to set them (or reset them) to align with
- What’s realistic
- What’s achievable (given their time, or budget constraints)
- How you actually work
For example, if your client mentioned…
“We really only have $X to spend, and want it done by the end of this month”
You can explain what goes into building their project, and discuss how long other similar projects took to deliver. You can also educate on that custom software is often not “one size fits all”, and that you can’t give a detailed schedule and estimate until you have created a thorough requirements document.
Or if they said…
“The business has been slowly losing money over the last 5 years, so by investing in a new website they really hope to turn that around”
You should give an honest appraisal of whether you feel the website they have asked for will meet these goals, and if not - suggest some things you feel would help.
If this was in a discovery call, this is a great time to offer them a longer (paid) scoping workshop where you can take a lot more time to understand their needs, and collaborate to design the best solution.
“We are really too busy to do any testing, and see this as something you should take care of”
Then you can discuss how our testing works, and that you need a product owner on their side to complete user acceptance testing after every sprint. Mention how this has huge benefits - and that the industry as a whole now incorporates client testing and sign-off as a standard.
Educate on how you guide them through this, provide a test plan, and that it’s really not that difficult or time-consuming. Lastly, make sure the client agrees with this before continuing. They need to agree to it in order for it to now become their expectations.
This is how you recalibrate their original expectations, and set them based on exactly what you will deliver.
Without this process, your client will go on continuing to think you will because exactly how they assume, and you might consider the same.
In the initial phases of a project, there is a lot of expectation setting to be done. This happens in, official documents such as
- Your proposal
- Your estimate
- The shared delivery schedule
But expectations are dynamic, and need to be adjusted throughout the entire project, via
- Managing scope creep
- Weekly check-ins
- Ongoing collaboration
Understanding expectations, and correctly setting expectations are key to long-term client relationships.
It’s also an area where practice makes perfect, so learn from every project, and you will get better at setting and resetting expectations from the start.