Ain’t Nuthin’ but a Trust Thing

A framework for every relationship you’ve ever had.

That’s right.

I’m going to outline a framework contained in every relationship you’ve ever had. And I hope the shock of how obvious it is knocks you out of your chair.

What is this framework?


But more specifically, trust which is earned by managing expectations and follow-through.

(I’ll give you a sec to recover.)


Trust is mandatory in any successful relationship. That sounds so obvious doesn’t it! But it’s a point worth making that trust in a relationship should be reciprocal to really be called trust. In product development, when a PM isn’t trusted chaos is almost ALWAYS close behind.

As a management tool, this framework is so obvious, yet often under-looked.

When new PM’s are looking to get into the industry they often have one of two worries. “Will I be technical enough?”, or “I don’t know anything about [insert topic here].”

I’ve found the answers to those questions don’t matter. If you are able to build trust that’s at least half the job. You can always fill a technical deficit and learn about the product’s vertical.

Trust is key, but it’s not the only part of the framework. Managing Expectations and Follow-Through are the concepts and actions that create Trust.

Let’s take a closer look at the system, by use of this fancy model:

(Managed Expectations + Follow Through) = Trust

What does it mean?

1. Tell people what you are going to do. (Or get them to tell you what they want)

2. Then do it. Repeat.

I’ve created an example we can reference as I discuss the parts:

Client: Can you send me a report about the project every week?
PM (to client): Sure!
PM (to self): oh geez, where can i get the numbers from? When does the week start/end? Will this give the client more transparency than we want since I know where the budget is at right now? How should I format the email? Who needs to be on the email?

See? Simple!

Let’s break each part down further…

1. Managing Expectations

This is a critical concept, and one that is often missed for any number of reasons. Fear, impostor syndrome, and lack of agency are often at the bottom of why someone won’t say what they will do.

It’s not only the Junior PM who might feel this way! Talking to people and influencing their reality is HARD. The unknown is SCARY.

The core of it is this:

If you don’t manage expectations, you’re at the mercy of the unknown. You can counter this by managing. Your job is to evoke a confrontation which leads to clarity and resolution.

I know, that’s scary. But it’s a mistake to think expectations are better left alone.

2. Follow Through

Let’s say you managed the expectations! Good for you! Halfway there!

Now you have to do the work you set up when you managed the expectations.

As I showed in the example above, saying ‘SURE’ is the easy part. Getting all the questions answered to deliver on the task, in this case a weekly report isn’t that easy. Lots to do. It’s your job to do it, or communicate why you can’t.

3. Trust

You said SURE, created the report, then delivered it. Nice.

So, do you have trust now? Hard to say, but it’s without a doubt the first step in the process. You validated that you can do what you say you will. Which is great.

Now do it again.

And again.

And again.

That’s it, right?

Funny thing about trust is you can’t see it, or know it’s there. But you will know when it is NOT there.

Gaining trust is like losing weight. It takes lots of effort to build trust, same as losing the weight. While one doughnut or missed task won’t throw the whole game, it’s a slippery slope.

Telling someone you’ll do something then consistently missing the follow up erodes trust, and quick.


Again, these concepts aren’t new to the PM role. They aren’t new to how you treat your friends or family. Hopefully you have people who trust you, and you trust.

You can have the same relationships in your business life, just stick to the framework.

Erik Carlson