Setting Expectations

As a Project Manager, it’s important to understand that your time is usually spread over several tasks and/or projects for any given day. For this reason it is extremely important to set the correct expectations with customers. Over the last couple months this lesson has been reiterated to me again and again in several different forms.

During one engagement, I learned how imported it was in setting expectations with your project team members. In working with a new, inexperienced team member, I had overlooked setting the expectation during the discovery phase to look at all areas of the system, even if it doesn’t appear to relate to the specific engagement scope. The oversight was discovered later during the execution of the project and in turn caused additional change management and scope that the customer was not expecting.

Another example of not setting the clear expectations up front was during a Time & Materials engagement to perform discovery of an existing system to be upgraded. The sales representative set an estimated 80 hours to perform said discovery and provide the outputs stated in the scope of the engagement. Without setting the correct expectations, the customer anticipated that the output stated in the scope would be ready in 2 weeks (80 hours). Realistically, there are several factors that are required for such an engagement and the expectations should have been set that the estimated 80 hours would take place over a several week span of time. The unrealistic expectation that the customer had was later influenced by explaining the processes required to provide an accurate output and meet the required deliverable for the engagement.

Understand that realistically there is no way to guarantee that all expectations are set for every project engagement and that not all engagements are the same. There are, however, a few activities that a Project Manager may do to mitigate those inevitable disconnects:

Clear, detailed communication
  • Discuss details with the sales representative prior to any kickoff meeting with the customer.
  • Hold a kickoff meeting with the customer to set the expectations.
Ask questions & listen
  • Never be afraid to ask questions to ensure you heard right.
  • Ask senior management for assistance if you need it.
  • Listen to the feedback given
Realistic vs. unrealistic expectations
  • Realistic expectations can be managed following the activities outlined above, as well as others.
  • Unrealistic expectations are more difficult to manage but the good news is that no expectation is set in stone. Any expectation can be influenced and changed as it only exists in a person’s mind.

In closing, setting expectations does not necessarily make or break a project; however, managing expectations can make for great relationships and successful outcomes. A regular theme throughout the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) is effectively managing expectations.  As part of the ImageSource project team, I try to be sure to set realistic expectations with each ECM project I manage. Providing new and better information is the key to influencing unrealistic expectations and setting new ones.

Jen Hilt
Project Manager
ImageSource, Inc.