How to manage expectations when kicking off a new project

In this episode of our popular Tips in Ten(ish) minutes video series, Kirsten Lecky, EVP insights and growth at WG Content, sits down with Alan Shoebridge, chief communication officer at Providence, to hear his project management advice.

Watch this 11-minute video and learn:

  • Five questions to help set clear expectations 
  • Know the difference between good and good enough
  • How shelf life plays into deliverables

This video was recorded on August 22, 2022, before WriterGirl became WG Content.

Watch the video

0:00:05.0 Kirsten Lecky: Hi Alan, thank you so much for joining us for our Tips in Ten Minutes, I think most of our audience knows who you are, you’re very well known, but I thought we could start by you maybe just introducing yourself and maybe talking a little bit about your background and your role at Providence.

0:00:19.7 Alan Shoebridge: Sure, well, thanks for having me. I am Alan Shoebridge, I’m the Chief Communication Officer for Providence in Oregon. And Providence is a large healthcare system on the West Coast, and I’ve actually worked in healthcare and marketing and communications content development for almost 20 years, it feels kind of nice to say 20 years, but it’s almost been that long. [chuckle] I’ve seen the industry and our profession go through a lot of changes, but I love talking about subjects like this where we can think about the work we do and how we can do it better.

0:00:48.7 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah, yeah, and you’re certainly a LinkedIn superstar and a national speaker, and so and a well-networked person, so thank you for taking time in your day to join us, and what really inspired this conversation was, I had read and watched your short video on the five questions to ask to be aligned on strategic priorities or creative work, and I was just so intrigued. But I think a lot of them are very simple questions that we all know we need to ask, and one of which I thought was even more intriguing, but if you could just tell… And then we’ll also include it, we’ll be sure to include a link here when we post this so that people can go and watch it themselves, it’s very short, it’s like five to six minutes, but if you can kind of paraphrase what’s in those five questions I think that would be a great place to start.

0:01:31.5 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah, you bet. So a lot of this assumes too, that you’re getting a project request or you are asked to do stuff that is already kind of thought out, so this request makes sense, but what’s the expectation I need to set with whoever is asking me to do the work or that the partner I am coming up with something on. And so I always start with, Well, when does something need to be done if someone comes to me and say, “I have this need,” well, you need to clarify, like, when do you actually need it? ’cause that can get you off track right from the beginning. And then there’s the a piece of how good you need it to be, is this something that we want to have a really long shelf life and something that we think is gonna win a lot of awards or do we just need to get it out and get the information out to people? So that’s the second question. And then I think you get into some of the things around, Well, what action do you want it to drive, what do you want people to do if they see this, or what is their action gonna be? And how do we incorporate that into the work? And then I obviously have to have some parameters on budget, so how much do you wanna spend, that’s gonna dictate a lot of how the project works and how long it’s gonna take to do, and then the one that I think sometimes gets overlooked…

0:02:34.1 Alan Shoebridge: I know I’ve run into trouble, that’s like who needs to review or approve this. What are those hidden steps along the way that you might not be aware of, so asking those five questions can get your project… I think it’s the best way to get your project off to a good start.

0:02:47.5 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah, and I think that… Who needs to review and how many people need to review, and then negotiating the number of people, if needed, ’cause that could be open up a whole another can of worms when you’ve got too many stakeholders involved, but I do wanna focus on that one question of how good does this need to be? As we’re all in… We talked about this recently, we’re all doing more with more less, producing more stretch for resources, but we all want quality work fast. An example, what is it the fast, cheap, good ratio that we’re always reconciling… You gotta pick two, right?

0:03:23.4 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah.

0:03:23.7 Kirsten Lecky: So talk to me a little bit more about that one specifically. How you’ve used that in your work, how it has helped you in your work, maybe some examples of that.

0:03:31.2 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah. And I think most of us are never gonna turn out a bad project, or a bad piece of content, but it really is we gonna be… I think a lot of it is how much shelf life is this gonna have, what type of medium is it running on… Who’s gonna see it? Is it different than if you’re doing a flyer for a clinic and it’s gonna be only seen by a handful of people a day, that’s one thing, if you’re gonna do a TV spot that’s gonna be seen by thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, that’s a whole another level so you know, you asked for an example, but I’m gonna talk about TV spots. Sometimes people will get asked to do a TV spot, and there’s a big difference between doing something where you’re hiring talent and writing scripts and taking a professional crew to shoot something, and if you’re gonna do that… That’s a good level, people want… There was, I wanna say, We want a TV spot that could win awards and be fantastic looking, well, that’s gonna take you a minimum of three months to do, and it’s gonna require a lot of budget. Now, if you want to promote something that’s maybe shorter in duration, or we’re using stock photography or we’re gonna use our own people, whatever.

0:04:41.2 Alan Shoebridge: Well we might be able to do that in a month or 45 days, but it’s probably not gonna look as good, it’s not gonna be as polished, and that’s fine if that’s what you want, but those expectations have to be understood, so I think when you get asked to do a project, especially something that might be very visible like that, it is sitting down and saying, “Well, how good do you want it to be,” ’cause that’s gonna dictate both how much time it’s gonna take, and how much budget it’s gonna require, and if you don’t set that parameter, you’re probably gonna do it and maybe the end project is not gonna meet the client’s need or what you wanted to really do…

0:05:14.8 Kirsten Lecky: Your internal.

0:05:15.6 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah, you gotta start there.

0:05:16.4 Kirsten Lecky: Well, what I love about that, and maybe we can collaborate and design your ideas into some kind of score card, because how good do you need this to be is very subjective, everybody, like you said, everybody wants it to be good. Well, I want it to be good and I want it to be good in 24 hours, right? Like even if you are asked on a 10-point scale, where is good… Is it nine or is it 10 or is it eight? It’s just so hard. And so asking the questions that are a little bit more objective, what’s the shelf life? I think that’s a really good question around like, is this a three-month shelf life or is this a three-year shelf life? Like, what’s the longevity of the piece? Maybe the target… What’s the idea around who’s gonna see it and how are they gonna see it, and how will they interact with it, and I don’t know, you listed a couple other things that you said there that support, I think… Not just asking the question, How good does it need to be, but asking the those supporting question to help somebody even answer that. So you’re talking about shelf life, audience, what were the other ones?

0:06:12.1 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah. Well, I like your idea of the scale too, but I think it’s part of it is like how many people are gonna see this. You know what’s… And also if the expectation of someone’s like, “I really want this project to win us some awards and make sure our brand perception goes up by five points,” like, okay, well, that’s we could do that, but it’s gonna require a lot of budget versus if, “Well, I really only want this to drive action for two weeks to understand we’re having a health fair and we want people to come and, these pieces of content will drive that,” but then it’s over and this isn’t gonna be a award-winning project. It’s just gonna be something that we do. So I think that’s how you set those expectations and again, even if you don’t do that, people might be expecting the award winning then when you deliver something that’s not there, they’re like, “Wait a second, this is not quality.” And then, you’re not gonna at all necessarily start over and do something from scratch.

0:07:03.7 Kirsten Lecky: Do you find that your team is using this approach with your internal clients and…

0:07:10.0 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah, I think, for me, I’ve always just used this for myself and then I’ve shared it with teams throughout time and kind of, I think where I am now on the communications focus, it’s a little different than marketing. I think when you’re in marketing, you’re really dealing with some things that are gonna have serious budget implications, whereas on the communication side, it’s more time. So again, if you’re asking how good you want it to be it may be a time and resource, not so much budget question but I found these, especially when you’re gonna be spending money you’ve gotta set these parameters right here.

0:07:43.8 Kirsten Lecky: Well, and I think it’s so hard too, for the creatives to be good or to be okay with it not being perfect. You know, or because that’s, it’s we have such pride in our work and we want the time to be able to deliver what we believe to be the highest quality best product or whatever it might be and so that negotiation around in this case, it’s a three-month shelf life. Speed is the most important. They just need to get it to market for a health like I said, a career fair or something. All right. Well, we’re good with 80% and that’s, I think for the creative people, also a tolerance around being okay with that is…

0:08:22.4 Alan Shoebridge: Well I like your idea too, around the idea of a scale. So I would say I’ve rarely done anything that’s less than a seven but the difference of getting to a seven to an eight to a nine to a 10 [laughter], seven’s still pretty good but each of those increments is gonna require more in terms of time, resources or budget. So we’re not gonna do something bad, we’re not gonna put out a [0:08:44.6] __ it’s gonna be on brand. It’s gonna be edited. It’s gonna, but again, what do we do above and beyond that? That’s that’s the question.

0:08:54.0 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah. Yeah. And we have had, we’ve worked with clients that are like, they’ll tell us without even asking us like, “Hey, we’re good with 80% because we have so much going on and it’s more around the speed to market and the acceleration of the messaging. That’s really the most important.” So that’s where we have to kind of take our deep breath and be, “Okay, all right let’s get it on it.”

0:09:13.0 Alan Shoebridge: So probably for your creative and for people I’ve worked with, again, a seven out of 10 for the average person, they’re gonna see it as. Those that’s pretty good that looks nice. But when we’re in the profession, we know that a 10 out of 10 is an award-winning thing that when I put on our a resume our LinkedIn profile, our Highlight reel, whatever but not every project can do that because we don’t have the time, we’re limited both in time and resources. Right. So we have to be realistic about what we’re trying to achieve.

0:09:39.6 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah. Well, I think our 10 minutes are already up. It goes so fast. So but before we go, I wanna ask you a question just really about you personally. So tell us like something fun you’ve done this summer.

0:09:49.6 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah. Actually I took a vacation this summer in the last few years I haven’t really gone anywhere. So it was my wife and I’s 25th wedding anniversary. So we decided to just take a trip. We did a road trip. We went to Utah and stayed at Sundance resort, which for a long time was owned by Robert Redford.

0:10:06.5 Kirsten Lecky: I was gonna say, did you run into him? [laughter]

0:10:08.1 Alan Shoebridge: No, I didn’t see him there. And I didn’t drop his name, try to get any special access or anything, but it was really fun. It just, it was nice to get away and we did some hiking and relaxed and read a lot of books and so yeah, it was fun.

0:10:20.5 Kirsten Lecky: Happy anniversary.

0:10:21.8 Alan Shoebridge: Yeah thank you.

0:10:22.6 Kirsten Lecky: 25 years.

0:10:23.4 Alan Shoebridge: I know.

0:10:23.9 Kirsten Lecky: It’s good. Yeah. That’s a good anniversary to celebrate so. Well thank you so much for joining me. And like I said, we will link to your content so everyone else can see that maybe you and I can create that really cool scorecard on That idea. And if anyone has any questions, we’ll be sure to include your contact information and mine and see if we can add any more value or answer any questions.

0:10:46.0 Alan Shoebridge: Great. Well, I hope people find this helpful. I know it’s along the way, it’s saved me from getting in trouble more than once.

0:10:51.3 Kirsten Lecky: No, I love it. Thank you so much. See you.

0:10:53.6 Alan Shoebridge: You’re welcome.

0:10:54.3 Kirsten Lecky: Bye.

0:10:54.3 Alan Shoebridge: Thanks. Bye.