Sometime between the First Age of Middle Earth and 2001, a Hobbit named Frodo, a wizard named Gandalf, and a bunch of other characters headed off on a quest to find the “One Ring that Ruled them All.”
Thankfully, project management isn’t quite as daunting as Lord of the Rings. For example, there are no mountains of doom to climb, and the landscape is pretty much orc-free. But there is an equivalent in the project management universe known as expectation management, because it’s the “One Goal that Rules them All.”
Indeed, as experienced project managers know and emerging project managers will quickly find out, meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and fulfilling business requirements are all important – yet it sometimes isn’t enough! If sponsors and other stakeholders don’t have the right mindset – that is, if their expectations aren’t accurate and aligned with what the project is doing and delivering – then there’s going to be a disconnect. And when that happens, it’s easy to understand why many project managers wish they had a ring that would make them invisible.
Fortunately, managing expectations on projects isn’t nearly as perilous as saving the world from evil Dark Lords. Here are 5 practical tips that will help guide your projects towards triumphant, Oscar-worthy conclusions:
1. Confirm Everything
Project management assumptions are probably responsible for more expectation management troubles than anything else – especially when it comes to who’s supposed to be doing what, when, how, where, and sometimes even why. Avoid these misunderstandings by confirming all commitments. Yes, it’s a bit of extra work. But it’s much easier and far simpler to send out a quick meeting or conversation recap, than it is to try and reframe expectations down the road. Sometimes, it simply can’t be done.
2. Communicate in Context
Naturally, sponsors and other stakeholders (including internal executives) don’t follow projects on a daily basis. As such, managing their expectations – or just as importantly, discovering when their expectations are off track – involves putting all update and status information in context, and linking it to an associated task, activity, milestone, or other work object. Otherwise, it’s perceived as raw data that only makes sense after-the-fact – i.e. when expectations aren’t met, and the back-and-forth can go like this:
You: I sent you the information exactly 13 days ago at 2:32pm.
Them: I see here that you sent me an update. But there was nothing about what you expected me to do or why.
You: I thought it was clear. I’m reading my update now and I don’t see the problem.
Them: Maybe it was clear to you. You’re running the project. But it wasn’t clear to me.
You: I see. Might you have a time machine so I can go back and read that Clarizen blog about managing expectations?
Them: Funny you should ask. I happen to have one right here…
(Hey, Tolkien isn’t the only one who can write fantasy!)
3. Status Meetings: Just Say No
A trip to the DMV. Watching paint dry. Enduring a root canal. Oh for the love of Gollum: getting a mullet haircut!According to a Clarizen/Harris Poll survey, these are just some of the horrible things that people would rather do than attend yet another status meeting – and included among this massive cohort are folks whose expectations you need to monitor and manage. As such, instead of relying on status meetings (whether in-person or conference calls), use designated virtual meeting spaces that allow team members and stakeholders to know what’s expected of them, and see how their contribution fits into the bigger picture.
4. Make Communication Easy & Efficient
Projects tend to be sophisticated things with lots of moving parts – including some that move in the wrong direction, and others that don’t move at all. However, as complex as projects can get, communication among team members simply has to be easy and efficient. Otherwise, people won’t communicate (or won’t communicate well enough), and managing expectations is impossible. In that case, you can only hope for the best. That’s fine if you’re in the audience watching Frodo & Co. journey through Mordor. But it’s not fine if you’re at the helm of a project and are accountable for results and success.
5. Use the Right Project Management Software
If you’re using spreadsheets, emails and other ad hoc tools to manage expectations: please stop. Even on small projects these aren’t the right tools; and on larger or multi-phase projects, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. The right project management software has built-in features and functions to support expectation management. It’s also fully configurable and wraps around your workflows and processes vs. the other way around. And of course, it goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that it has to be a pure cloud-based solution, and accessible anywhere via mobile device. Work doesn’t start and stop at the office, and neither does managing expectations.
At Clarizen, we’ve designed our software from the ground-up to help project managers turn expectation management from a difficult ordeal that undermines performance, into a core function that drives success. To learn more, take a product tour, or start a free 30-day test drive.