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Why managing expectations matters

May 2, 2008

Making Customers Happy

First and foremost, one should want to manage expectations in order to have satisfied customers and users. That is the mission of an IT professional, and should be taken seriously, personally, and professionally.

Keeping Perceptions Positive

It is clear that doing things “by the book” (i.e. according to policies and procedures) does not always lead to satisfied customers. One way to understand why is to understand the role that perception plays in management. There is actually much substance to the favorite maxim of the political spin doctors, “perception IS reality.” What this means is that if there is a perception of a problem, there is indeed a problem, even if the IT department is meeting its strategic plan and projects come in on time, on budget, and to scope. If, despite all of this, the IT department is seen as aloof from the business, unresponsive to their needs, or not providing sufficient support, customers will be unhappy.

Dealing with Uncertainty with Flexibility

Further, customers and business users are used to dealing with uncertainty in their commercial, regulatory, and other stakeholder environments. They will not be able to understand why the IT department cannot also be flexible enough to deal with a certain amount of uncertainty. While the IT staff may believe that it is acting in everyone’s best interest by trying to minimize uncertainty by locking down scope and requiring signatures on requirements documents, such actions can easily raise a perception that IT is being difficult and legalistic.

Customers Have Choices

If there is a perception that key customer expectations are not being met, then there is a reality that these customers will not be satisfied with IT service or deliverables. Now, more than ever, these customers have choices. They can decide to build their own applications within the business, bypassing the IT department. They can move towards vendor-provided ASP solutions, removing the need for the IT group’s development, testing, and support activities. Alternatively, they can convince senior management to organize the IT function differently, and even to outsource it entirely.

This ever-increasing availability and acceptability of alternate choices is a powerful reason to retain happy customers. Expectations management is a key tool for doing just that.

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