The Expectations Gap, Part 2

Failing to set expectations can lead to failure

By Mark Riffey

So if Moderna’s software figured out the spike protein after two days of work in January 2020, you might be thinking “Gee, it’s December, why don’t we have a vaccine yet?”

It’s a reasonable question and it brings the discussion back to our mockup discussion.

By identifying the shape that a vaccine has to match, they’ve done a very important piece of work. It’s a mockup of part of the work of producing a vaccine (yes, a sizable oversimplification).

Once you have a vaccine, it has to be tested, including time-consuming human trials. That process is often where the work doesn’t pass muster. Once it’s been tested, accepted by the FDA, and probably other work I haven’t mentioned, then you have to manufacture millions of doses. That requires sourcing raw materials – some of which may be expensive, time-consuming to make, etc.

You have to figure out the logistics of delivering it and administering it to millions. That takes money, people, logistics, systems, and time, but that’s not the point.

Communication is essential

What fascinated me about it was the gap in expectations between the reality of the work and what we (the general public) expect.

Anyone who has done custom work learns very early on that if you don’t manage the expectations gap, you’re in trouble. I suppose it’s a good thing that Moderna’s successful protein work didn’t make it into the news in early January since they didn’t yet have a vaccine. They simply had the protein match. Some who knew of this success had expectations for a quick solution, not realizing that the process had just begun – thus creating an expectations gap.

Despite the fact that the typical multiple year process of figuring out what to build had been reduced to two days thanks to years of effort, testing, and trials on other diseases, plenty of work remained.

First US Polio case: 1894. Polio vaccine approved: 1960.

They felt they’d have a vaccine in 18 months vs. four years, the recent best case for vaccine development. A reminder: It took 76 years to get a polio vaccine. Science has improved and our expectations have kept pace.

That’s the lesson those who do custom work must learn from this. We have to be careful to manage expectations because it’s so easy for the customer to see very early on what looks like a finished product but isn’t – because we want to get feedback from them.

Whether it’s a house design, software, a website, or whatever – there’s a lot of work required to get from that mockup, to something that only works on the programmer’s machine and nowhere else (aka “WOMM” – works on my machine), to a point where it works on every computer, browser, mobile device or whatever.

This gap is “significant”, kind of like the gap that can be created when a home builder gets the foundation poured, framing done and the roof on. All of a sudden it looks like a house. Get windows and the front door on and it starts to look like a real house – but it’s only been a couple of months. Why does the rest take so long? If your expectations aren’t set properly, conflict is coming.

Avoiding the expectations gap

Why? Because the first 80% looks like everything and the second 80% is hard to see from the curb. A house may not be wired, plumbed, sheet rocked, painted, etc. The builder may be waiting on various tags / permits. It may lack cabinets, appliances, flooring, fixtures, etc. It may not be cleaned up or landscaped.

Some of these things are hard to see from the street, where it doesn’t look much different from the day the roof was finished. It’s similar to me showing you an app on my machine, where it works in the environment I work in every day – where it’s easy to make it work.

It’s critical when doing custom work to make sure that you explain what people are seeing and what’s left. Part of doing that (and not catching a lot of grief) involves your expertise in knowing what it takes to get from point A to point B because until you know the expectation gap may also be in your head. This gap is a good way to assess the expertise of someone that you’re planning to hire.

Next week, we bring it all (custom) home.

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

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