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As We Write Code’s project manager, Jason Snyder is responsible for keeping track of a lot of things—one of the most important being expectations. In this article Jason unpacks how setting expectations can easily be one of the biggest determining factors for a client’s satisfaction, a project’s success, and your company’s potential growth.

Expectations can be the driving force in any relationship, but they are particularly critical in client services. They can be the defining line that determines whether or not a business relationship establishes trust and can flourish, or create doubt and disappointment causing the relationship to end. Therefore it is important that we set expectations with clients early and update them often, allowing us to routinely build trust and expand our sphere of influence. 

When we examine what happens as expectations are set early in a project or relationship, what we are doing is creating a contract that establishes how services are rendered. We set forth a set of features, what the cost of those features will be, and when the client can expect to have those features delivered. This contract is usually set forth in a Statement of Work, and it’s clear at this point that expectations have been set. However, these expectations are high-level, and it is not yet clear how the relationship will actually evolve as the project moves forward. 

The hardest thing to set with your clients is the expectations that aren’t written down in a contract. How often will you communicate? How will you handle demos and how often? How will you react to change? How will you handle failure? How will you handle success? And, perhaps most importantly, how honest will you be about all of these things? These intangible expectations must be managed and honored as closely as anything written down in a Statement of Work. 

Expectations are set not just for what you do, it is also how you do it. 

A client should have an understanding of how often they’ll hear from you, how often you will demo, and how you will react to change. These expectations should also be set early, and they should be held consistently throughout an engagement. The more often that you touch base and demo, the more agile you’ll be when you need to make changes. As these practices play out through the lifespan of the engagement, you are building trust by meeting expectations. 

Trust is the outcome of routinely meeting expectations, and breeds confidence in a company, service, and product. Building trust allows for positive word of mouth, increased business and repeat business. 

Trust is the outcome of routinely meeting expectations, and breeds confidence in a company, service, and product.

Most projects shift from what is forecast in the original project plan. A project may exceed its budget, or be delivered late; features may need to be cut in order to deliver on time or on budget. Or, sometimes, we deliver early and under budget. When these shifts in schedule, cost, and features happen, it is then that the intangible expectations come into play. If you have been meeting and demoing regularly, then these shifts come as less of a surprise, and the trust that you have built holds the relationship up. Almost all projects have storms and changes. Without a strong relationship built on meeting expectations, the relationship can falter and fail. 

Disappointment is the result of missed expectations, and a disappointed client is more likely to give negative word of mouth. For client services, this can be catastrophic:  it can cost future business, reputation, and ultimately, revenue. To avoid these outcomes, it’s important to go beyond your Statement of Work on setting expectations. Set expectations on the intangibles, and deliver on them. Build trust with your clients, be honest about pitfalls, and react positively to change. 

We at We Write Code always strive to set expectations, update those expectations regularly, meet those expectations, react positively to change, and be honest about problems with projects. This fosters positive relationships with our clients, and allows us to be competitive in the market.