How to manage expectations on your project

When expectations are not managed well, even a project that comes in on time and on budget might be seen as less than successful.

Managing the expectations is important on all projects. It's the major purpose of your status report, but managing expectations requires more than just sending out an accurate status report on a monthly basis.

When expectations are managed well, all parties feel good about the outcome of the project, even if there are a number of challenges. On the other hand, when expectations are not managed well, even a project that comes in on time and on budget might be seen as less than successful.

Managing expectations means keeping the client informed as to how the project is going and the changes, if any, that are made to previous agreements and understandings. Most times when there is major friction between the client and the project manager, it's not the underlying problem that's the cause. It's because the client was surprised. The following process helps set an overall framework for successfully managing expectations.

1. Establish an agreement
This is probably the most overlooked, yet obvious piece of the process. It is impossible to manage client expectations if you don't have some agreement to begin with. There are two major places to gain the original agreement: Project Definition (Charter) and business requirements. The Project Definition sets expectations at a high-level and the business requirements help set expectations at a more detailed level.

2. Manage change
Once an agreement has been reached, the project team and the client will proceed within those expectations. It should make sense that any changes to the agreement should be documented and agreed to by the client and the project team. If the client makes changes to requirements or other aspects of the agreement, scope change management should be invoked. If the project team can't deliver against expectations, then risk management and issues management should be utilized.

3. Communicate proactively
The project manager should communicate proactively through the status reporting process or as part of a broader Communications Plan--especially if there are any problems meeting the expectations. The main motivation is to avoid surprises.

4. Deliver against the expectations
Again, this may seem obvious. However, once an agreement has been put into place, make sure that you deliver as expected. Many project managers establish an agreement and then they don't deliver successfully. And even worse, in many cases, the project manager doesn't communicate proactively. This results in the client being surprised, which can cause all sorts of problems.  

5. Reset expectations if necessary
If you determine that the original agreement can't be satisfied, you should identify the causes, propose alternatives, and reach a new agreement. This may be painful, but it's your only alternative if you can't meet the original expectations.

6. Complete the agreement
Review the completed work with the client to ensure that the terms of the agreement have been fully met. If not, negotiate what will be required to fulfill the agreement.

This process may seem simple, but how many of you manage expectations this way? Yet, this simple process can save you a lot of aggravation and can result in your making sure that you meet your client’s expectations for your project.

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