A few years ago, we
worked on a project for a startup in the gaming industry. We were designing a community for them that allowed gamers to share achievements in games they were playing, and connect with others. I remember the excitement of the team when we won the project as it was something that spoke to our nerdy side and gave some wonderful visuals for design. Things were going really well
in the project: we were proud of the work we were sharing, and the client seemed receptive to our ideas.
Then I got a tough email from our client. The client hadn’t heard anything from our team in a few business days, and were concerned about the project. Despite the fact that our team had been iterating internally on the design daily, they explained that every day they waited for an update their expectation on what was coming their way grew. We had delivered something shortly before receiving the email, and while we thought the work was some of our best, they felt as though it was underwhelming.
It made so much sense, and because we couldn’t meet the expectation they had built in their minds we were fired shortly afterwards. The death of the project was our fault: we had let our client’s expectation exceed our abilities, and it ended up burning out our team as well.
I continually go back to this story when I feel as though I’m in points of waiting. How often have you waited on a simple task to be done by your team, and felt the need to continually check in? How often can others say the same about you? Time’s relationship with expectation affects how we perceive others for better and for worse, and we often aren’t as direct as our clients were: we hide behind “check-ins” and “wondering”, as opposed to getting to the root solution.
The solution to the problem of people’s perception of time is a simple one: we need to encourage empathy, and set better expectations. This empathy is notoriously difficult in a remote team, as well. In the story I mentioned, our team (including myself) didn’t realize that the client was getting antsy because they hadn’t seen anything (i.e. lack of empathy). We could have easily avoided that situation by telling them when to expect a next deliverable and exactly what that deliverable was going to be (i.e. setting better expectations).
Having an empathetic team that understands the importance of the relationships they’re building is crucial. Since we failed that client, we’ve focused more on over communication, empathy, and the concept of “under promise, over deliver” with our team. We’re still not perfect at it and have a long way to go, but when I speak to others about their experiences with service-oriented businesses in particular, often problems are due to a lack of empathy.
Once we’ve set those expectations our goals become simple: achieve those expectations as we say we will. Anything less than that and we deserve the perceptions we receive.
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