Managing expectations is one of the most important keys to our success as project managers and leaders. Some might say it’s easy. Aim low – deliver high. Perfectly simple. But this approach won’t last long. The smart people out there will begin to realize that they are being fooled.
On its own, managing expectations is difficult. Our customers, stakeholders and even team members will set their expectations too high or at an unreasonable level. Without proper management, we are bound to get ourselves into a tenuous position.
Right up front, we need to be honest and communicate clearly. All parties must be very clear on each other’s expectations. Regardless of contracts, history or reputation, the best managed projects have time set-aside to clearly review everyone’s expectations.
But then it gets more difficult because things change. It’s inevitable. Managing change is a critical role for every project professional. But this is the point where we need to go back to our stakeholders and re-establish, or at least re-visit, everyone’s expectations. We need to be sure that everyone is back on-side.
I tell anyone I work with, or who works for me, to keep talking to me. Tell me how you are doing. Tell me if you think we will be late or over budget as soon as you know. Set my expectations correctly as soon as you can and feel free to re-set my expectations as required. I know we aren’t all perfect. I know that we will make mistakes. I know that things will happen above and beyond our control. But I want to know about it as soon as possible – not at the 11th hour. Please. This way, you see, I can help, or get others to help. And at a minimum, I can adjust my own stakeholder’s expectations.
This is the key to project success. The original plan often has to be adjusted. We all know this. The earlier we get at it, the better chance that the new plan becomes THE plan. The bottom line is that no one wants to be surprised. Manage everyone’s expectations early and often.