Managing project expectations

managing project expectations

Managing project expectations is a key skill for any project manager and for the success of a project. The reason why is easy to comprehend.

Delivering a project within schedule and on budget is certainly the goal of any Project Manager, but this is not enough to make a client happy.

Surely more than one project manager found himself delivering a project on time and within budget and then discovered that the client was not satisfied with the final result.

Often this is due to expectations that do not reflect reality, i.e. expectations that go beyond what is really achievable (at least on time and with the budget allocated. This is a rather common scenario, and when it occurs it is quite unpleasant for both parties.

The worst thing is that it often comes out of nowhere, as everything seemed to progress according to plan. You realize that you can’t meet the customer’s expectations simply because you failed to manage them.

Expectations: what are they and why should they be taken into account?

An expectation is “a strong belief that something is going to happen” based on certain assumptions and previous experiences.

The human being is a customary creature and expects certain things to manifest and act in certain ways.

We shape our expectations about others and, in the same way, we are subject to the expectations of those around us.

Certainly, however, life does not follow precise and fixed plans over time, thus sometimes making expectations futile and incorrect.

In particular, in project management, not knowing how to manage the expectations of the client and also of the project team leads to many challenges, including:

  • Ambiguous objectives and successful measures
  • Confusion about what task must be performed and when
  • Focus on wrong priorities
  • Lack of team effort
  • Diminished reliance between project manager, team and client.

Therefore, it is essential to manage the expectations (and not only those of the clients) from the beginning of the project and throughout its life cycle.

In particular, there are five ways to manage the expectations of a project. Let’s have a look at them.

Managing the expectations of a project: Project Planning

Frequently, stakeholders have a vision of the project and its results before any actual project planning takes place.

If this aspect is not properly addressed and approached, it can lead to a conflict between what is promised, how the promise is interpreted and what is actually delivered at the end.

It is important to involve stakeholders at the beginning and during the planning phase to develop realistic expectations based on available resources, team skills and desired outcomes.

Work with stakeholders to formulate the scope, priorities and objectives, identify the dependencies of the activities and decide how to address the risks.

It is also important to involve the team in project planning.

This guarantees that the team is aligned with the objectives and can help create a realistic project plan, leading to greater motivation and involvement of the various members.

Openness is critical during this phase and the project manager should not assume that everyone has the same understanding of the project plan and objectives.

Managing project expectations: Executing the project

The key here is to hold separate meetings with the team and stakeholders to discuss how the project will be executed and monitored.

The meeting with the team should be spent to ensure that everyone fully understands the project, their role and the project manager’s expectations of how the project will be delivered.

The agenda may include, for example:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Tasks and dependencies
  • History, milestones and key results
  • Monitoring and reporting requirements
  • Communication plan
  • Resource availability
  • KPIs and metrics
  • Risk management strategies
  • Modification request process

Also, you need to plan regular meetings with the team – for example once a week – to examine progress and upcoming activities.

A meeting with stakeholders will review project documents and processes, scope and deadlines and clarify any doubts or problems.

This meeting is also a useful opportunity to highlight, for example, the responsibilities of stakeholders, providing timely feedback before it is too late and the project starts moving in the wrong direction.

project expectations

Managing project expectations: Communication

Expectations are based on assumptions and bias, and constant and effective communication is essential to reduce their impact.

Communication begins at the planning stage of the project and lasts throughout its life cycle.

When a project manager meets with stakeholders and the project team, they must be honest about what can be achieved and clear about the agreed plans.

There are several ways to achieve this level of transparency: for example, use simple language to avoid misunderstandings, promote enquiring and end each meeting with a short recap (perhaps emailed to all participants).

Another suggestion is to log and archive the minutes of the meetings in the project folder for future reference.

An efficient communication plan should include:

  • The communication channel for every situation: e-mail, instant messages, online discussion forums, meetings, etc.
  • Communication frequency.
  • Heads of communication.
  • Risk and problem communication management.

This last bullet point refers to the sensitive issue of bad news.

Projects inevitably fall by the wayside, but the problem can be easily overcome by fast and efficient communication.

Managing project expectations: False promises

It is easy before you start work on a project to get involved in the excitement for a new job and fall under pressure from stakeholders by making false promises.

A “we might be able to do it” can easily become a “we certainly can” and you find yourself struggling with unrealistic expectations.

It is therefore important that a project manager accepts goals that they know for sure are achievable, while regarding others they must keep a dialogue window open or make clear the possible risks, without making false promises.

A solution could be, if uncertain about a request or suggestion, to check the history of similar previous projects and/or consult the project team or industry specialists before agreeing on any deadlines.

Managing project expectations: Personal expectations

As stated above, people always expect certain behaviors from those around them.

However, because expectations generally do not match reality, we may be disappointed by the actions of family, friends and colleagues.

As a project manager, it is important to share expectations with the project team.

Being transparent about the standard of end results, communication requirements, responsibility for risk management, etc. can make expectations within the team much more manageable.

In addition, a project manager needs to be clear about the mechanisms and feedback processes to address poor team member performance.

Expecting a project team to deliver results without direction or guidance is simply not fair and wrong.


Expectations are inevitable both in everyday life and in project management.

Everything we do, everything we say, everything we don’t do, everything we don’t say creates expectations about what we will do or say in the future.

This is why it is important in project management that the project manager is able to ensure that all stakeholders maintain the same expectations and that these expectations are feasible and intentional.

Proactive management of expectations consequently leads to successful projects, satisfied stakeholders and clients and teams involved.

Manage your projects at your best.

One try is worth a million words.

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