As leader, a project manager or team co-ordinator, you instinctively want to deliver well and please everyone. And everyone on your team wants to do the same thing. We are all trying to please each other. It’s natural. We expect success. Why would anyone start off in a project expecting failure?
As project managers, we are very good at setting expectations at the front end. This is easy. We will deliver on time, on budget and within the defined scope. Most often, we are telling our customer what he/she wants to hear and frankly, what we hope will happen.
But we can’t always deliver as promised. 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 we don’t. 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 it 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 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. If the original plan has to be adjusted, this is fine. The earlier 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. No one.
Plan the work and work the plan and find a simple, easy way to keep everyone in the project on top of the progress. No surprises.