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Hello Expectation. Meet Reality.


What Do Your Clients Expect From Their Custom Learning Solutions?

I recently became a new grandma to a baby boy. My daughter and son-in-law live close by, so I’ve had a front row seat for this exciting and fascinating adventure! But what’s a new grandma to do? It seems like being a grandma should come naturally, but like all new things, there’s a learning curve, and of course, I don’t want to overstep. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to talk to my daughter about her expectations of me and to accept that her expectations may not be the same as mine.

As a project manager, this got me thinking about client relationships. It’s really all about setting expectations, especially when working with a client for the first time or starting a new project. It’s important to take the time to ask questions, to align your expectations with other team members, and to be ready to “course correct” when needed.

But here’s the kicker — unknown variables abound, regardless of how proactive you are about trying to foresee them at the beginning of the situation. While every variable cannot be addressed or accounted for, you can take steps to minimize the “reality vs. expectation” gap and plan for the unexpected. Here are a few ideas.

Be flexible. Yes, “be flexible” is tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? To me, it means listening and making adjustments as needed. For example, I was managing a custom e-learning development project for one of my clients that required an online tool to be used to review the draft programmed course and note changes. But this tool was proving very cumbersome for the reviewers. The team was having a hard time using it due to their internet connectivity. We simply could’ve trudged through and waited to consider a different approach for the next course. Instead, I looked for a better option at that moment and was able to find one that met both our expectations. Waiting to implement something under the assumption that there will be a next time might just seal the deal on there not being a next time.

Prepare for the unexpected. Life happens, and sometimes that means you cannot fulfill every obligation as expected. Regular team communication is essential. Part of setting my client up for success includes preparing for the unexpected. To do this, I always keep one or two colleagues up-to-date on project status so they can step-in on my behalf should the need arise. This approach took away the worry and gave me the confidence I needed to manage business commitments around the arrival of my grandson. I gave each of my clients the heads-up regarding anticipated out-of-office time and let them know who to contact while I was unavailable. I also took a few minutes at the end of each day to log the status of each project and send it to my “back-ups.” This not only helped me stay on track, but it assured me that tasks wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle or forgotten when I was away. Yes, this seems like a natural step, but it takes forethought and intentionality to see it through.

Reflect on what’s going well. Maybe two things are going wrong, but are there also 10 things working well? Dwelling on the positive over the negative isn’t burying your head in the sand. It keeps your mind more open to see options and solutions to challenges. Focusing on the negative makes you…well, negative…and may keep you from seeing the solution. Find things you can let go.

On a recent project, the team was struggling to get content and edits validated by the SMEs. Up to this point, everything on the project was working great. So I reached out to my counterpart on the client side to collaborate on how to solve this issue. We determined that a face-to-face meeting was the best solution so we could go through the content and validate everything instead of chasing our tails. While the scope of this project didn’t include another meeting, I worked with the client and eliminated (let go of) a second draft cycle and kept the project on track.

Be intentional about creating margin. When project schedules allow for it, build time into your project plan that gives some ‘elbow room’ for adjustment. This is especially helpful when working with team members who are new to the process of developing custom learning solutions. Perhaps an experienced learning and development team usually completes a review cycle in three days. Before assuming another project team will meet that same expectation, ask clients what they need. I had one client request a two-week time frame for every review cycle, which would significantly affect the timing they were striving to meet. But armed with this knowledge, I was able to compromise and build a schedule the team found comfortable, and I was better able to align resources and adjust milestones.

We all know that unmet expectations lead to frustration, poor decisions (more frustration), and even strained relationships. A few upfront questions and preparations can go a long way to align expectations with reality and plan for the unexpected.

And by the way, I have it on good authority that my grandma duties are meeting expectations!

A woman and some of her coworkers smiling while working in a computer lab.

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