Expectations aren't set one time. They are continuously in a state of flux. A discussion by the coffee machine, a recently read article or a meeting with a vendor can all serve to change what stakeholders expect from IT. The issue is that IT is likely to be completely unaware of the change in expectations in regards to the service levels that IT provides.
With this in mind, it is important to continuously manage stakeholder expectations. In other words, regularly communicate and meet with these parties to understand their expectations, candidly identify what IT can and cannot do plus set a shared vision about the direction of IT and service levels. These meetings should be a mix of formal and informal venues.
Formal Venues and Methods
Here, "formal" means that the meetings and memos are planned and part of an identified communication plan. If you don't have a communication plan, create one! It is important for stakeholders to understand how communication with IT takes place at project, operations and strategic levels. At any rate, there are numerous means to formally communicate with stakeholders. The important part is to pick methods that work for your organization and the various stakeholders.
The richest means of communications is a structured meeting. Note, that this is not just a meeting for the sake of getting people in a room! It is a planned structured meeting with an itinerary, goals, recorded minutes, etc. It must be a chance for the stakeholders to dialogue with IT. In other words, the meeting must have two-way communication versus IT standing in front delivering a monologue.
This is identified as the richest means of communication because IT must take care to note both verbal and non-verbal cues. In-person meetings allow IT to rapidly assess comfort levels and "unspoken" concerns. Also, because everyone is "together" there is the opportunity for socialization, sidebar discussions, going out to lunch, etc.
If it takes quite a bit of effort to get stakeholders together due to travel issues, then mix meetings with conference calls. The dialogue can still take place, and verbal cues can still be monitored. However, other cues such as body posture and expressions cannot be readily seen. The increasing penetration of video conferencing is helping, but still does not match in-person meetings in terms of the richness of non-verbal cues or the ability to have informal dialogues, a brief social time or event, etc.
Memos / Brochures / Communiqui
The third means to communicate is through the use of emailed updates, hard copy brochures, etc. These are all one-way communications meaning they are prepared by IT and then sent out. It is important to encourage stakeholders to contact IT if there are questions or concerns. The greatest weakness is that messages are delivered and reactions cannot be measured and immediately addressed.
Informal Venues and Methods
Obviously, there are many formal mechanisms to meet with stakeholders, understand and then manage expectations. Of equal, if not more important, value are informal venues. These are discussions that are held impromptu, in a bar, in the hall, at a sports event, etc. Not only do they present a non-threatening means to discuss issues, but they also provide a great chance for a one on one talk. Care must be taken not to set expectations in haste thus exacerbating problems. However, these casual meetings are very effective to generate understanding.
Depending on how fast things change in your organization, this may happen monthly, bi-monthly, etc. It is not advisable to meet once a year and view that as sufficient. Work with the stakeholders to identify a communication schedule that has the appropriate mix of communication methods.
It is not enough to understand stakeholder expectations. These expectations must be actively managed by IT through careful two-way communication with stakeholders where IT listens to needs, discusses what can be done and sets direction.
Are all expectations met? Of course not. However, there is clear understanding between all parties about expectations and which ones can and cannot be met. The important take-away from this article is that IT must communicate openly and candidly with stakeholders so that all parties understand what can and cannot be done with the time and resources available.