Setting Expectations – Lessons From a Little League Umpire
I’ve found through the years that projects go more smoothly when expectations are set at the beginning. Whether I’m in a Business Analyst or Quality Assurance role, I’ve found that the project goes more smoothly when the processes are laid out clearly up-front and the known limitations of the project are called out and addressed before the project starts. When people are not aware of the time that they need to dedicate to the project or the limits of the project scope until the project is well underway, they can get quite upset.
My most memorable lesson on the importance of setting expectations is still the one I learned while umpiring little league in high school.
I umpired my first game when I was 14 years old. The league was a city-run little league program, and some of the divisions had kids as old as me. Other than watching a lot of baseball, the only preparation the city gave me was handing me an armful of equipment and a copy of the rulebook. I read the rulebook several times and felt that I was as ready as I could be.
I set up the bases and put on my equipment for the first game. I said hi to the two managers and nervously took my spot behind the plate. My calls were a little shaky, but I was surviving. Surviving until the third batter, that is.
I lost my concentration on a pitch and uncertainly called, "Strike?" The batter’s manager yelled at me, "How can that be a strike?!? It hit the dirt before it even crossed the plate!"
I sheepishly said, "It did? I guess it was a ball then."
Needless to say, the managers, players, and parents argued with me vehemently on nearly every call after that. I wasn’t sure I’d ever want umpire another game. However, the manager of the umpires was desperate for warm bodies to call the games and convinced me to finish out the season. I never had a game as bad as the first one, but every game was stressful and the managers, parents, and players argued with me regularly.
Year Two – Setting Expectations
In the next year, I read a book called "Strike Two" by former Major League umpire Ron Luciano. His stories about handling some of the toughest personalities in baseball gave me the insight and confidence that I needed to try umpiring again. The difference this year was that I was going to set some expectations before every game.
I met with both managers before every game and explained the following:
- I’m the only umpire, and I only see each play once. Don’t bother arguing any judgment call such as ball vs strike or safe vs out. I won’t change my call.
- I call a big strike zone. If any part of the ball is over any part of the plate from the top of the batter’s shoulders to the bottom of their knees, I’m calling it a strike.
- I’m not a professional umpire. I may make an error in the rules. If either manager believes that I made an error in the rules, let me know. I will call a time-out and meet with both managers to review the rule book and make an adjustment to the call if warranted.
Taking the time to set these expectations made a huge difference in my ability to manage the game. The managers would tell their players that I have a big strike zone and that arguing with me was pointless. The players swung a lot more, put the ball in play a lot more, and I got very few arguments.
In addition, after the games, parents would tell me that it was one of the best games they went to all year, especially for the younger age groups. Apparently, in many other games, the batters for each team would simply draw walks until they reached the 10-run mercy rule for the inning. This was boring for everyone involved. Because players were swinging more when I umpired, the ball was put into play more, and the kids and parents had a lot more fun.
I’d like to hear about your experiences with setting expectations. Have you found that setting expectations up front helps your projects? Have you received any resistance to setting expectations at the start of a project?