Managing Expectations – The Key to a Leader’s Success

As project managers, we are very good at setting expectations at the front end of the engagement.  The more experienced we are, and the closer the project is to our past experiences, the better we are at this.

But we all know that everything looks very rosy at the start of most projects.  Then things change, and every change puts our original promises at risk.

It is critical as a leader of any kind to be sure our stakeholders understand the risks involved in our work.  We need to set their expectations clearly – right up front.  They need to know the risks involved and what the potential outcome will be if things do change.

But typically, we don’t do this.  We hide the truth and hope it won’t come true.

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. Setting expectations is all about trust, communications and honesty.

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 the project will be late or over budget or the wrong colour or not quite as promised in some way. 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 all of this 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. If the original plan must be adjusted, this is fine. The sooner we know the better. And 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.

Plan the work and work the plan and find a simple, easy way to keep everyone in the project on top of the progress with no surprises.


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