Shared Expectations for Rapid Change

Add bookmark

Jeff Cole

Have you found that some tools are timeless? In good times or bad they serve us well. I was recently reminded by a client that not knowing your Customer’s expectations can be an absolute killer in the world of process improvement. It drove a large amount of dysfunctional change and in general induced panic and chaos. Their prescription was something quite simple I first wrote about back in 2008. It’s shared here again as one of those "timeless methods" from which we can all benefit.

Back when I was with AT&T, I woke up one morning, came into work and had the great fortune of stumbling across a "secret" methodology. Secret because it was not well known to the general public. A great fortune because this methodology not only made significant impact in driving change quickly, but had been successfully used inside portions of AT&T that won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Its name: Shared Expectations.

While traditionally used to build partnering agreements, my colleagues and I found it to be one of the power tools of change management for large projects. In fact, I thought so highly of Shared Expectations that when I left the company, I secured the rights to the methodology and for the first time share it publicly.

As the name implies, Shared Expectations involves facilitated sessions between customers and suppliers wherein each shares their expectations of the other party. Outputs include action plans and a scorecard through which the expectations are measured and mutually managed. It’s important to note that for Six Sigma, Shared Expectations is a method best suited to large, cross-functional, or extensive process changes, be they DMAIC or DMADV. While especially useful for a process rollout, it can be equally helpful during earlier phases.

For Six Sigma purposes, those who are impacted by a large change to a process are considered to be the customers in a Shared Expectations session. Those driving the change are the suppliers – typically this is the owner of the process that’s being changed and the owner of the organization. Shared Expectations sessions follow a fairly standard flow and require some planning to be effective.

The Shared Expectations process has three phases: prework, the Shared Expectations session and post-reviews. In this article, we’ll review key parts of the Shared Expectations session itself, as depicted in the diagram below (click on diagram to enlarge).

flow chart

Getting Started

The two teams move to separate breakout rooms, each with a trained Shared Expectations facilitator. In the "supplier" room, the main topic brainstormed is: "To make this change successful, what do we expect of the customer group?" Vice-versa in the "customer" room. Ideas are written on post-its and an affinity exercise performed to develop categories of expectations.

Then, using a 1-7 scale the team asks "How is the other team performing today?" (or if more appropriate "How have they performed in the past?") and rates each category. Using the same scale, they assign a second score to each category answering the question "At what level do we need their performance?"

They affinitize a final question: "What do we think the other team expects of us?" This does not get scored. To round out the session they prioritize their expectation categories. For a Six Sigma process change, expectation categories may involve training, time & priority management, communications, recognition, providing tools & support, process governance, management system integration, etc.

Sharing and Consensus

Both teams convene in the main room where the Shared Expectations facilitator leads them through the sharing session. Presented first is the list of what the supplier group believes the customer group expects of them. That is followed by the customer group presenting their expectations of the suppliers along with the current/desired scores.

No debate is allowed at this point, but clarifying questions are encouraged. Next the supplier expectations are presented. Once all expectations/scores are shared, the Shared Expectations facilitator leads the group to consensus on the categories and performance levels.


The final part of the Shared Expectations session involves the teams developing actions to close performance gaps, dates and owners, identifying appropriate ways to measure the relationship and conduct ongoing reviews. This is accomplished in several ways – teams can dialogue as a large group, conduct separate breakouts and reconvene for consensus, or take it off-line and meet another day, etc.


Shared Expectations is a great way to get those impacted by the change to be involved in the process and in some cases has even triggered additional process improvement projects.

According to Ed Francis of the UK-based The FrancisCan Consultancy (and fellow Master Facilitator for Shared Expectations): "The key messages here are to ensure everyone understands what is expected of him/her and that a structure/working environment (and ethos) is created, which will allow effective co-working to achieve success (however that is defined). A good Shared Expectations workshop will allow everyone the opportunity to say, ‘I didn’t know I was expected to do that’ and then create the required ownership and action."

I’ve successfully used Shared Expectations for large changes in marketing, IT, payroll and professional services processes to name a few. Francis has also used Shared Expectations across industries in areas such as: customer satisfaction, supplier performance, communication programs, contractual frameworks, plus others.

Shared Expectations is a multi-faceted power tool for helping drive change and one well worth adding to your toolkit.