How to Manage Expectations During Your Project?
September 3, 2019

How to Manage Expectations During Your Project?

By Brian McHale

The most important part of project management may be getting the project done, but the way you manage stakeholder expectations will affect your results.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at how you can manage expectations during your projects – even if you’re not a trained project manager.

What Are Stakeholder Expectations in Project Management?

Everyone comes into the project with some kind of expectations:

  • Your project team expects they’ll have all the time, tools and support they need to get the project done without burning out
  • Your top management expects the project to be completed successfully
  • Clients expect requirements followed and executed.

Plenty is expected from you as a leader, too.

However, sometimes, communication falls short and one side is left expecting more than the other side can offer.

The trick to making sure that the project runs smoothly is in managing stakeholder expectations.

Why You Need to Manage Stakeholder Expectations?

For starters, expectation management in project management is all about communication.

Stakeholder management

Source: Simplilearn

Around 57% of projects fail because the communication wasn’t up to standard; there wasn’t enough transparency on either end, client or project team.

Not managing expectations leads to obstacles such as:

  • Team and stakeholder disengagement
  • Unclear objectives and goals
  • Poor prioritization
  • Inadequate risk management
  • Performance issues.

It’s much easier to manage a project when everyone is on the same page, and that’s exactly what expectation management is all about.

How to Manage Expectations During Your Project?

Fortunately, managing stakeholder expectations doesn’t have to be complicated.

There are 9 key areas you should focus on:

1. Engage from the beginning and plan well

Planning is the key to success.

However, the majority of project teams rush through planning, eager to get to work and get the clients off their backs. This is often what leads to expectation mismanagement, as the rules, objectives, and metrics haven’t been properly outlined.

In order to manage everyone’s expectations in the planning phase, you should communicate clearly and transparently with the clients, project teams, and top management regarding:

  • Objectives
  • Goals
  • Scope
  • Changes
  • Expectations.

Make sure you fully understand what their expectations are, and that you’re clear on which expectations you will and will not meet.

Then document it in your planning documents. Later on, if there is any confusion, you can simply reference them.

Document management

You should put in the maximum amount of effort and attention into the planning. If you’ve done everything properly, the rest of your work will be much easier.

2. Manage project team expectations

It’s best to include your project team in the planning phase.

However, if that’s not possible, you should still discuss the project requirements with them.

When requirements and roles are unclear, project team members often feel like they’re taking on too much once the project is underway.

To avoid any confusions and unrealistic expectations, you should:

  • Define roles and responsibilities clearly and early
  • Define schedules and task dependencies within the team
  • Establish KPIs and metrics that will be used
  • Set up a communication plan.

If you’re using Office 365 at your company, you can use an integrated Office 365 project management tool to keep everyone on the same page.

3. Understand stakeholder expectations

As a project manager, you also have to be a psychologist who constantly asks:

“But why do they want what they want?”

You have to understand why stakeholders have expectations they have.

For example, why do clients expect different scope? Do they expect to be highly engaged with the project or simply briefed periodically?

Similarly, when you’re managing leadership expectations, you have to ask yourself what your team, your top management and your clients are expecting from you, and if you can give that to them.

The most important part of managing expectations is understanding them.

Everyone has clear goals they state, but you have to understand what they are really hoping to get with the completed project.

For team members, that might be a raise. For top management, improved public esteem. Whatever it is, understand it, and then approach those expectations accordingly.

4. Define levels of engagement

Some stakeholders will naturally be more engaged with the project. For example, your project team.

However, others may want to be engaged more or less than you think they’d like.

Project Planning

It’s important to define levels of engagement, as well, and create a communication plan for each stakeholder group.

Encourage stakeholders to be proactive. If they have questions, let them message you. Schedule ample time for status updates.

However, keep your change policy at hand to avoid any miscommunications.

5. Changes and escalation

Speaking of changes, make sure the scope was defined early on, as well as the change policy:

  • What type of changes would you be willing to implement?
  • What type of changes do you lack the resources for?

Yes, unforeseen things always happen when you’re working on a project, but it’s important to have a document you can reference so you always know how to proceed.

Similarly, if an issue gets out of hand, you should know who you can escalate it to.

On the inside, make sure your project team knows they can rely on you.

Define issues that need escalation, and those that don’t.

Then, if they need to escalate, be there to guide them through the process and ensure that everyone’s expectations are still being met.

6. Manage conflict

When there’s a conflict on a project, your natural reaction may be to stop it immediately and decide on the course of action.

However, it’s much better to manage it, keeping the goals of each party in mind.

If your project team members are butting heads, take the time to sit down with them and understand what the problem really is.

Reference the pre-set expectations to see if the conflict is a professional or a personal issue.

Encourage team members to communicate and offer their feedback on everything from project progress to suggestions.

7. Record issues, changes and activity

Recording issues, changes and stakeholder activity is a must if you want to successfully manage project expectations.

Not only will recording them help you understand stakeholders’ motivations, but it will also help you assess your own performance.

You can create better strategies in the future if you can see what worked and what didn’t.

8. Manage perceptions

Your project status is one thing. The way your stakeholders perceive the project is an entirely different thing.

You should make sure that everyone’s perception of the project is similar, if not the exact same. For example, you can use a tool like Project Central with Office 365 to keep everyone in the loop about project progress.

Communicate with stakeholders to ensure their perception is realistic.

This way, you’ll avoid a lot of disappointment and conflict, while securing approval.

9. Don’t micromanage (but manage)

Your project team may be taking on more than they can handle, which is why it’s important not only to manage the project, but help them manage their time as well.

Project management

Let your team know that you’re there to help them, and keep an eye on their workflows to ensure they’re not pushing harder than they can.

In the long term, you’ll earn their respect and you’ll have a much better time communicating with them on projects.

After all, it all comes down to communication.

Understand everyone’s expectations, and then make a plan to meet them, or be honest about why you can’t.

Your project will be all the better for it.

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