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#016 - As stakeholder expectations adapt, so should you
Welcome to Issue #016 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
🤔 Made me think: Don't leave your expectations unspoken.
👨💻 Worth checking out: How what you expect to care about changes as you climb the wealth ladder.
The "fun" of keeping in sync with stakeholder expectations.
"Quick quick, over there" says our guide excitedly as he gestures enthusiastically to a herd of majestic elephants that had emerged from the bush.
I glance up, shrug, and go back to doing what I were doing before. I was 2 weeks into a 3 week safari trip and our guide was new - having taken over a few days earlier. What this guide didn't realise was I had seen, and photographed, tons of elephants and they weren't that interesting to me anymore.
Looking back, it's crazy that was my attitude.
I'm still in my early twenties and doing one of those genuine once-in-a-lifetime trips that people dream about doing. I'm in one of the most beautiful areas on our planet, the vast and stunning Serengeti. I'm somehow, incredulously, already bored of seeing yet another elephant.
I wasn't the only one that felt that way.
In fact, we all felt the same way and were all surprised by how quickly we felt that way. Especially after all the hopes and expectations we each had of seeing the "Big Five" - elephants, lions, leopards, cape buffalos, and rhinos - on this trip. All we wanted now was to see the next thing on the list or something novel.
"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."
Aldous Huxley | Writer
The art of managing client expectations
Coming up through the ranks of the Accenture graduate programme, I was drilled in the art of managing client expectations.
The fun part isn't that each stakeholder has different expectations of what needs to be delivered, how it should function, and when it needs to be ready by.
Nor is it threading the needle to find consensus between stakeholders whilst minimising the inevitable conflict that arises.
As hard as both of those elements are, the fun part is realising that for the same stakeholder, their expectations change over time.
Delivering a document management system project, the sponsor was literally all over us to get his sophisticated version control feature implemented yesterday.
It was critical to him because he saw it as the first fundamental pillar to impress his users. Once (mostly) delivered, it then proved impossible to convince him to spend any effort on refining the feature. Not even the low-hanging quality-of-life enhancements that his users clamoured for.
From his perspective, this requirement was done and he was now all about the next new feature to move the needle. Whilst this requirement started out as a showcase feature, it became a threshold feature. One that's just expected to be there, taken for granted, just like all those African elephants I saw.
To succeed with your stakeholders, you need to confront the challenge of continuously adapting as their expectations adapt.
Monitoring changing expectations using the Kano Model
To handle that challenge, one technique I use is to re-purpose the Kano Model.
Developed by Dr. Noriaki Kano in 1984, product managers typically use this to decide what features to prioritise. It illustrates how one feature can deliver disproportionately high customer satisfaction. Whilst, another feature delivered for the same level of implementation effort barely delivers any customer satisfaction.
That difference arises because customers react differently based on their expectation of that feature.
In the Kano Model, there are 3 positive reaction categories to aim for:
Basic Features: The "table stakes". These are the threshold features that customers simply expect to be there. Until they are, the customer will be dissatisfied.
Performance Features: The "incremental improvements". Those that customers actively desire. They proportionately increase customer satisfaction as you invest more into meeting their needs.
Excitement Features: The "wow factors". Those that deliver outsized levels of customer satisfaction. Especially if the customer hasn't asked for them.
In my Africa trip, here's how my expectations towards the African elephant changed:
Excitement Feature: Seeing this majestic creature in the wild for the first time was a key reason for doing this trip.
Performance Feature: After seeing a bull by himself, it was still interesting watching the different herds - from the matriarchs to the adorable baby elephants.
Basic Feature: Having seen elephants on most days, they were just part of the background as I looked for the rest of the "Big Five".
By re-purposing these three categories to reflect my stakeholder's expectations, I have a framework to:
Baseline what my stakeholder expects from each feature by mapping it to a category.
Track the category changes as their expectations change for each feature.
Deduce, from the trend of these category changes, how and why my stakeholder expectations are adapting.
As the saying goes: "being forewarned is being forearmed".
Reframing your stakeholder expectations
Beyond keeping me in sync with my stakeholder expectations, I can also proactively apply these insights.
Earlier I wrote about the stakeholder who didn't want to spend development effort refining what had been delivered. Had I known about this technique at the time, I would've reframed my ask.
Back then, I was tackling each backlog item individually with him and failed. Instead, I would have:
Packaged the relevant backlog items into a collectively strong performance feature. Perhaps, even a hidden excitement feature.
Called out the set of related backlog items that collectively were a basic feature that was needed to stop users from rejecting the entire system.
Utilised the Kano Model categories as our common language and the graph as our common framework to anchor our discussions.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can't change the past but I can learn from it by using this technique going forward.
Now over to you: how can you apply this technique to reframe an ask from a stakeholder that's not taking your advice?
🤔 Made me think
Don't leave your expectations unspoken.
We've all had managers like that.
I've definitely had clients like this. Clients who think I can read their mind to know what they are expecting.
Don't be like this. Be clear about your expectations.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 How what you expect to care about changes as you climb the wealth ladder | Of Dollars And Data
Here's a different take on adaptive expectations. This graph shows as your liquid net worth increases, things that you used to care a lot about tend to matter less.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.