Use this Three-Letter Word to Help Manage Expectations at Scale

Claude Jones
Walmart Global Tech Blog
3 min readFeb 28, 2018


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Unrealistic Expectations

Even for the seasoned professional, managing workplace expectations can be tricky and if the right level of tact is not used, the wrong response could set off a negative chain reaction.

Just take these scenarios for example:

Scenario 1: The Special Project
Another unwanted “special project” has fallen into your lap, consuming your time and impacting your ability to deliver on the projects that matter. What would you do?

Scenario 2: Just Make it Happen
Your boss handed you a top priority project with a fixed end date. Is this an awesome career opportunity or another death march killing team morale? What would you do?

Scenario 3: Last Minute Request
A partner team has identified you as a critical dependency. You have two-weeks to complete the feature on a project that has been active for the last 3 months! What would you do?

That Three-Letter Word

The above are classic symptoms of organizational dysfunction. So what’s a person to do?

By answering “No”, you might be perceived as being difficult to work with or not a team player. On the flip side, by answering “Yes”, the additional workload may prevent you from efficiently doing your job causing delays on other projects.

While this may seem like a losing battle, the answer is simple. Keep your cool and exercise proper judgement by using this three-letter word…

As a conjunction, “but” can be used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. You can leverage this to soften the delivery and work towards a reasonable compromise.

Controlling the Chaos

Let’s give it a try based on the scenarios above.

Scenarios 1: The Special Project
Yes, I’d be more than happy to pick up this extra project, but I will have to descope Project XYZ to accommodate this request. Do you have any other recommendations on how best to prioritize this effort?

Scenario 2: Just Make it Happen
Based on the current project scope, my confidence is low that we’d hit our aggressive timeline, but if we reduce scope to critical features XYZ this will help mitigate the concern. Are there other options we can brainstorm to hit our target goal?

Scenario 3: Last Minute Request
Unfortunately, the two-week timeframe is not enough for us to build the feature requested, but I would like to partner with your team to implement a short term alternative as we design the long term solution. Is this something we can align on?

Closing Out

While the scenarios may seem simple, it’s difficult when you are on the spot and need to provide a thoughtful response.

To help, remember to use “but” and the rules below to soften your delivery and structure your response in a tactful way.

  • Decide if you want to take a “Yes” or “No” position
  • Define an alternative solution to the request
  • Close out by getting buy-in or asking for suggestions

By using “but” and following these simple rules, you will be a master at managing expectations for the most challenging requests.



Claude Jones
Walmart Global Tech Blog

VP, Engineering at Strava. Practical Leadership Guy. Motivational Speaker. Life Coach.