Over the next few months we’ve been releasing a six part mini-series on how to derail a project, looking at every aspect of the project development process from communication to responsibility. After covering failures of communication and lack of clarity, this month we’re focusing on expectation management, one of the most underestimated and crucial jobs of the project manager.
Think about an experience in your life when you’ve been let down by the outcome of an event. How about one when you’ve been delightfully surprised? Each of these is a case of mismatch between our expectations and the actual experience.
Clearly, expectations play a major part in our perception of success. A client whose expectations you’ve exceeded will recommend you to others, while a client for whom you came in below expectations may decline to do business with you again.
The trickiest part of all is that expectations are subjective. You can show the exact same project to two clients, one with high expectations and one with low, and they would react completely differently. The former would be disappointed, while the latter would be impressed.
Setting up clear expectations can give your team the confidence to perform better, while failing to set up expectations can cause client conflict and push your team to the limit.
Thankfully, there are things you can do as a project manager to better manage client expectations and get your team working together as efficiently as possible.

3 Ways to Manage Client Expectations

  1. Ask both big-picture and specific questions. To meet your client’s expectations, it’s crucial that you have a sound idea of what these expectations are in the first place, from big-picture issues like “What is this website trying to achieve?” to more precise questions about how the different pieces of the site work together.
  2. Walk the client through your process. Set up milestones for your project and walk the client through them so they can know what to expect at each stage. If you have experience working on a similar project in the past, go over some of the common challenges that exist so the client is aware of potential issues that can occur.
  3. Don’t over promise. We’ve all experienced it before—a client comes in, needing a project done in record time and asks “can you do it?”. Too many project managers say “Yes” and put extra stress on their team, while more should be saying “No”. To retain your effectiveness (and your sanity) as a project manager, be aware of what your team can and can’t do, and give the client an honest answer—both the client and your team will be happier in the long run.
  4. Do you remember a time when a failure to manage expectations affected your project? We want to hear about your experience! Send us an email, or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter!
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