4 ways to set clearer expectations

If you like the hit comedy show The Office (American version), you might remember when the new boss asks Jim to complete a “rundown.” Not knowing what a rundown is, Jim spends a lot of energy worrying, but not nearly enough energy clarifying. In the end, he faxes out a document, having no idea if it’s what was expected.

Personally, I used to receive “fly-by assignments” from my boss. And he always seemed to be on his way to a really important meeting with no time to explain what he was asking me to do. So instead of asking clarifying questions, which is always a good idea when you receive an ambiguous assignment, I’d complete the first small bit of the task and review it with him for input.

As business analysts, we often work independently and without direct supervision. But we can also face mistaken assumptions about our role, confusion about job requirements, and overly optimistic beliefs of how much we can accomplish in a certain amount of time. That means it is important for us to set expectations early and often.

(This is the first installment of a 4-part series going into a little more detail on the things I would have liked to have known before I started my business analyst career.)

Here’s a quick visual map you can use to remember what pieces of communication to consider sending on a project when it comes to setting expectations.

visual map

Click here to download this visual map in PDF format and save it for future use. You also might want to check out our Email Communication Templates for copy-and-paste email templates covering each of the scenarios discussed here.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the 4 aspects of setting expectations.

1 – Start a New Project

Setting expectations at the start of a new project can alleviate a lot of problems further on. Specifically, clarify your role, what you know about the project, and even the roles of the stakeholders.

This type of explanation is especially important when you are taking over a project from another analyst, or picking up a project that’s been on hold for a time.

2 – Clarify Assignments

Since it’s impossible to know what all of your responsibilities will be inside a given project up front, it is also important to clarify new assignments as they come up.

When the person giving you the assignment has trouble answering your questions, presenting an early work sample for feedback and input can confirm you are on the right track and enable you to course-correct before investing too much time.

Finally, as you grow in your career, there will be times when you take on work that is a bit outside your comfort zone. Seek out specific help to ensure you are successful at new tasks.

3 – Manage Your Workload

There will be times that you will have too much to do. When this happens, you can work a lot of overtime, deliver poor quality work, or request help prioritizing your assignments so you can deliver your best work on the most important projects.

Obviously, the third option is the best choice, but it does mean you will have to communicate about missing a deadline. What’s more, sometimes instead of shifting work out time-wise, it’s necessary to shift work away, and that means declining an assignment that is not yours to do.

4 – Provide Status Reports

One of my mentoring clients had his contract end early. It turned out his manager was in a different location, had little visibility into his work, and mistakenly decided that he wasn’t doing his job in the right way.

When you are working without direct supervision, it’s important to be proactive in your communication. A weekly status report is a simple way to inform others about what you’ve accomplished, what’s on your plate for the following week, and voice concerns about any issues you are facing.

A Quick Synopsis

While it can feel a little uncomfortable to set expectations, doing so shows you are proactive and professional. What’s more, as you start to communicate more clearly in each of these areas, a lot of the angst inside the work of being a business analyst dissolves, freeing you up to do your best possible work on the things that really matter.

Start with Trusted Email Templates for Managing Issues

When you download the Email Communication Templates, you’ll receive 32 copy-and-paste email templates covering business analyst work scenarios, such as setting expectations, that can be handled effectively via email.

Click here to learn more about the Email Communication Templates

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