Expectations are Everything

This is post 3 of 4 in the series “WordPress 5.0 and the Block Editor”

The Project Formerly Known as Gutenberg. WordPress is changing and the first major step was the new block editor. These posts have chimed in on the progress of that project from early-stage alpha to post-release.

I’ve got some thoughts I want to share today, and I just realized that I have never written a blog post about expectation-setting before. Let’s do both.

WordPress 5.0 comes out tomorrow. If you didn’t know that, I’m not surprised. It was announced 2 days ago after missing previously announced dates in April, August, and November 27. What’s more, it was previously stated that if it wasn’t released by November 27, the new release would be in January. It’s head-spinning and there’s no obvious explanation for it.

With that history, it seems pretty reasonable that members of the WordPress community got lost in a sea of missed goals and opaque decision making. My expectations for a release date were set poorly by the project leadership, repeatedly violated, and then completely upended with literally 72 hours to adjust. That’s no way to run a project or treat a community.

Your Expectations for WordPress 5.0

Given this update is happening barring an asteroid hitting earth or one guy changing his mind again, let’s quickly talk about what your expectations should be.

You should always update to the newest version of WordPress within a couple weeks, but with WordPress 5.0, you should defer the new features by installing the Classic Editor plugin first. If you do choose to use the new editor, expect it to be buggy and know that not all plugins have been able to add support full yet. I hope it will be greatly improved and with better plugin support by early February or March 2019 which is when I’m guessing I’ll start upgrading client sites.

And consider yourself lucky. WordPress has established a deserved reputation for releasing fairly stable updates you could trust. That’s another expectation, and I hope it’s one that survives the 5.0 release given the harm losing it would entail.

Expectations for the next phase of WordPress development

The amorphous leadership of this release still doesn’t seem to have grasped that those of us who are active members in the community—submitting bug reports, contributing free plugins, writing blog posts, building sites on WordPress for others, putting on WordPress events, etc.—want to participate but don’t really know how and feel ignored when we do. I think expectation setting is everything and there are lots of ways to do it.

I assumed that submitting bug reports would help show that the features weren’t ready, but that didn’t seem to work. I assumed I’d have a few weeks to prepare myself for the final release. That sure didn’t happen. I figured that even if people didn’t listen to little old me the makers of plugins with millions of active installs would get taken seriously. Nope again.

For the next phase of WordPress, it’s so critical that better expectations are set in a way that is honest and transparent. Telling people “I am listening to you” won’t cut it. Real expectation setting comes from showing that people are being heard and responding with clear feedback.

Let’s All Do Better Than WordPress 5.0

This post turned into a bit of a rant. I’m sorry. I’m publishing it anyway. But I promised myself when I started writing that I would make this about something bigger: expectations.

Over the years, I’ve realized that setting expectations is probably the biggest determinant of a project’s success. Yes, a bare minimum level of quality is required in the actual work, but the most beautiful website in the world can crash and burn if it’s not what people thought they were getting.

That’s why I start off my projects slowly and then sprint to the end. If a person or group you’re working with doesn’t know how they will get from point A to point B, what role they will play in that journey, and what might happen that could derail the trip, they will struggle to work efficiently and with certainty.

In the case of WordPress 5.0, the entire community has been the ones struggling to participate and work efficiently. That’s why you’ll find major WordPress plugin authors who support the vision but feel betrayed by the deadline. It has not been for lack of effort or desire. It’s entirely because it wasn’t clear when a release might be coming and how to prepare for it.

Hard truths delivered with compassion are better than broken promises or misconceptions left uncorrected.

So take a moment to reflect:

  • What projects have gone wrong in the past because you didn’t set clear enough expectations? How could you have communicated them better?
  • What projects have gone wrong because your own expectations weren’t set or met? What could you have done to clarify those expectations sooner?

Now, what’s that email, phone call, or meeting you need to make happen to get a project off to a great start or back on track?

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