The blog ofJonathan Pepin

On expectations, clarity and actions


Like most, I like my house clean. So if I notice dust on the floor, I'm usually inclined to pickup the vacuum. But today is Monday and on Tuesdays our cleaners come. Knowing this I probably won't take care of it, because I expect the dust to magically disappear by tomorrow and I'd rather spend that extra 30 minutes walking the dog, cooking or watching Twitch.

Laundry also has to be made. It's not part of our cleaners' tasks, so my wife and I take care of it. Because I'm the one who took care of it last, in my mind, it's my wife's turn.

But we don't have a set of rules about who does laundry when. She seems pretty busy with work right now, and seeing me watching Twitch, she is probably thinking that I should do it since I have extra time.

None of us is wrong. Both our expectations are right. The problem is, they're not communicated. There is no clarity. We both have different expectations and we're not telling the other. If she knew I was expecting her to do laundry, she'd do it. Same for me. If she told me "I'm too busy, please do the laundry", I'd do it.

But just like cleaning the floors, we don't do the laundry because our expectation is that it's gonna be taken care of. We'd do it if we knew it had to be done.

Someone recently told me their PM had left their team and they've been much more productive since then. I asked why, and they told me that now, it's clear that the tasks usually taken care of by the PM have to be done and so they take care of them, whereas before, the PM being split between 3 teams, those tasks didn't get done much.

The same thing is happening here. They could have done those tasks before the PM left the team too. But expectations were that the PM would do them, and it was not clearly communicated that some of those tasks should be done by someone else.

Again, nobody's at fault here. The PM was probably too busy if they had to take care of 3 teams. The engineer on the team could have helped, but didn't know they had to.

This lack of clarity between different party's expectations is what prevents actions and better results. If you don't know exactly what's expected of you, you can't perform at your best, because you won't be able to focus exactly on what you are supposed to do.

This is true for a team's productivity, for your performance with your manager or client, and also for your product. When people say "listen to your customers", this is what it means. It is saying to make sure to know what your customers are expecting of your product, so you can build the features that matter.