The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Managing the Expectations of Customers

June 15, 2012

By Daniel Clark, ECC Future Leader

Scanning through our list of blog entries on the ECC Future Leaders Blog, I see many articles (all recommended reading, by the way) which, in one way or another, apply to this very topic – Effective Communication; Authenticity; Planning, Execution and Construction Safety, etc. I’ve been both the Client and the Service Provider and I have a few thoughts to share on managing and meeting the expectations of our clients and our teams.

Play it Straight. Joe Wink, who founded an engineering company in 1970, wrote this “Straight Policy” in the 1990s. It has meant so much to me over the years:

Play it straight, whether in contact with the public, our customers, suppliers, employees, or any other individual or group.

The only right way to deal with people is forthrightly and honestly. If mistakes are made, admit them and correct them.

….This is fundamental: we will not welch, weasel, chisel, or cheat. We will not be party to any untruths, half truths, or unfair distortions. Life is too short.

It is possible to make a decent living without compromising our integrity.”

Define the Project. Or, in other words, define the expectations. Seems simple, right? We all know how critical it is at the start of the project or task to clearly define the scope, the schedule, the budget. But how many times do we miss this? I’m sad to admit I have. Maybe there’s not time, maybe the key people aren’t available, maybe we assume everyone understands. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s critical – define (and agree) on the work to be done, and document the team’s buy-in and agreement to the maximum extent possible. You have a much greater chance to manage expectations if you clearly understand what they are.

Manage Change. So we’ve defined our project and everyone knows what’s expected. Then what happens? Well, usually, something changes. Whether it’s equipment delivery, the weather, a subcontractor issue, or maybe we just missed something: we realize pretty quickly that we’re not going to meet a deadline, a line is going to have to be re-routed, it’s going to cost a little (or a lot) more money and take a little (or a lot) longer than we thought. Managing expectations is really about responding to change, and there’s only one way to do it: tell the truth, quickly, clearly and completely. Establish a new set of expectations, based on a new set of circumstances. In other words, play it straight.

Mutual Respect. This is huge to me. In the end, we’re all people, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and consideration, no matter which side of the fence we’re on. I suppose this is implicit in the “Play it Straight” policy. If managing expectations comes down to managing change (and it does), then at the end of the day, whether there is bad news or good news to report, I’d much rather report it to someone I have built a solid relationship with, by dealing with them respectfully, professionally, and honestly.