Project Management

8 Tips to Set and Manage Project Expectations

Managing expectations is crucial to keeping a project from imploding in on itself. If one camp thinks the project is a week late and another thinks it’s three months ahead, you have a severe conflict of views that could wreak havoc on the schedule and the budget. In an article for, Jennifer Lonoff Schiff gives eight suggestions you can use for setting and managing expectations:

  1. Put together the right team.
  2. Build in a discovery period.
  3. Document requirements—but don’t go overboard.
  4. Create a realistic schedule (but pad it just in case).
  5. Set and acknowledge milestones.
  6. Provide regular updates and demos to stakeholders.
  7. Plan for problems and potential conflicts.
  8. Be honest when things go wrong.

Expectation Creation

Having a project team that you know will excel is an integral part of maintaining your stakeholder and client expectations. This requires strategy when assigning who gets which work, which personality types will mesh, and how their skill sets will cover for one another. In this early planning stage, you should build in some time for unexpected aspects of the project. There should be a realistic schedule with some time padded in to account for the unexpected. Additionally set some time aside at the very beginning for a discovery period where your team and stakeholders can determine the project’s real scope. Plan for conflicts and problems later down the line by determining how much each member can tackle at once, as well as by identifying what other projects or challenges might obstruct access to resources.

Another thing to remember is that there should be regular updates and demos for your stakeholders. Demos particularly set expectations very well because they give stakeholders something tangible to understand. You can likewise use milestones for additional discussion.

Schiff says that while documentation is good, it shouldn’t be overdone:

“If your project includes business stakeholders it is critical that the business needs and requirements are well documented in a detailed scope statement,” says Alison Van Pelt, PMP, senior director at Cornerstone Advisors, banking and technology consultants. “Technical PMs often skip this step, an omission that can cause costly project budgeting and schedule overruns. Do the hard work of documentation and planning up front to have a smoother execution for all involved.”

…“build a plan to manage the tasks at a higher level,” she advises. “Then give the resources detailed task checklists [that] they can self-manage and give you the rolled-up status for your schedule.” This allows the project manager to better manage the project without micromanaging it.

Finally, remember to fess up and get vocal when things have gone wrong. Transparency is key in resolving issues sooner rather than later.

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