The Holman Expectation Curve

Project fantasy versus reality

By Steve Miller

Nothing is more edifying than discovering that something you’ve been doing all along in business is actually what they are teaching in school. Take the Holman Expectation Curve, presented recently in the management class I’m taking via the communication master’s program at Drake. Simply put, projects all look like slam dunk winners at the outset and score high on the fantasy scale. But over time reality takes hold and meets fantasy at the Oh My God (OMG) moment when we realize our expectations were unrealistic. The Come to Jesus (CTJ) meeting soon follows where the project is either put back on track, re-calibrated, or canceled. Ouch!

So our prof asked us how we might expedite the occurrence of the OMG moment earlier in a project to increase the likelihood of success. Here’s my thought:

Lets start with “been there, done that.” Nothing, in my mind, replaces experience and gut instinct when it comes to plotting out a successful strategy to meet a business challenge or opportunity. Then I’m with James Lewis, author of Project Planning, Scheduling & Control, when he insists that we develop a shared definition, mission and vision for the project before we proceed. This demands a positive atmosphere for discussion, creativity, disagreement and agreement right from the start. Finally, we should always insist on preparing a good business case on paper before we launch any project. Nothing sobers up a marketing team faster than memorializing a real timeline, real budget estimates, and real risks and assumptions.

My last bit of advice: pass around a copy of the Holman Expectations Curve at the start of every meeting on a new project! Cheers!