Expectations Management in Service Delivery

Social Security Programme Blog: Leadership Series

Sanjin Kaharevic, Social Security Programme Service Manager


Expectations will vary from one individual and/or group to another. For some, they will be too high and unrealistic, for others they will be more pragmatic, while others will anticipate failure. Consciously elevating expectations management into daily activity, especially in an Agile Service Delivery and/or a business change context, brings many potential benefits – better resilience, safer delivery, transparency and more robust stakeholder relations. 

Expectations of yourself

You should always start with setting and managing your own expectations.  Recognising from the outset that you cannot know or do everything is the first step as is the recognition that, as a leader, you will have successes and failures. Avoid being your own worst critic.  Before taking on a role, consider the level of responsibility and commitment that will be expected of you, as well as the time, experience and resilience levels you can bring to the role. Balance this against your life and responsibilities outside work and whether this will negatively impact on your leadership style and resilience.

Even with the best planning in the world, expectation and reality can become mismatched.  Therefore, regularly reflect on your current reality and be honest with yourself and others on what is possible and where you may need additional support.  Absorbing unreasonable pressure on a regular and prolonged basis is not a recipe for successful delivery and will have a significant impact on you, the team and the quality of the product. Modelling these positive behaviours to your team is essential to gaining trust and building a culture where pressures on health and wellbeing are recognised and addressed in a timely manner.

Expectations of the team

Personal experiences, aspirations and point in time pressures can all come together to create a perfect storm of expectations that, if not managed appropriately, can influence individual behaviours and therefore impact team dynamics, performance and wellbeing.  Some of these behaviours will be driven by past and/or current association with the subject matter and they may be inclined to deliver at any cost, forgoing their development and health and wellbeing.  Others may be motivated by development potential and some by recognition and end results.  How you identify, manage and nurture such expectations will determine whether this impact will be positive or detrimental.

Manage it by setting stretching objectives, empowering individuals and proactively investing in performance management and development opportunities, and you will increase the chances of a positive impact. On top of this, you need to invest in your emotional intelligence skills and get to know people on an individual basis as well as adopt a flexible leadership style to suit individuals/situations.  Managing the expectations of the team also involves clearly setting out the level of support that your team can expect from you and from the wider Programme.

Expectations of senior managers

Active and upward management of expectations is a must for successful delivery. There is always someone above you in the decision-making chain, experiencing different pressures. These can translate into differing expectations of what is possible within the available time, budget, resource and even the delivery methodology.  Whilst some change is inevitable, from the outset you must guard against “scope creep”.  This includes using available governance to clearly set the assumptions, policy intent and user needs upon which the planned delivery is based. Any alteration from this baseline that may impact the overall delivery timescales and/or quality needs challenging, and a new set of delivery parameters laid out.

Investing time to build the awareness and knowledge of the scope, user needs/feedback and the delivery methodology, by those above you in the decision-making chain, is a must. This is best done through regular and an ongoing engagement at each stage of the development process and ideally should take the form of face-to-face practical demonstrations of the progress made, opportunities and challenges encountered.  Such demonstrations should be delivered by the team members responsible, rather than you as the leader. This will contribute to their empowerment. They are also best placed to genuinely convey user needs, findings and any ramifications of potential changes of direction and/or scope.

This approach can also enrich senior decision makers’ knowledge of the product and delivery constraints and therefore give them strong evidence to better manage their own expectations and the expectations of stakeholders they engage with.


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