Managing expectations is a vital skill, and can be applied to nearly every interaction a project manager has: client management, employee management, and even managing up. Project managers who master this skill will be able to avoid a lot of the misunderstandings that cause so much project drama.
Know Your Subject Matter
You need to know what you’re talking about before you can discuss expectations. How can you say a task will take a week to do, for example, if you’ve never done the task before or know your team’s capabilities? I’ve seen project managers give wildly inaccurate estimates just because they were caught off guard in a meeting, and didn’t want to say “I don’t know.”
Which brings me to my next point:
Honesty is the Best Policy
Never over-promise. Never sugar coat. Never shift responsibility.
It doesn’t matter if it’s bad news or an unpopular answer: it’s for the good of the project, and it must be said.
I once worked with a project manager who sorely lacking the resources to make an e-commerce website. Instead of telling his manager or the client, he tried to build it himself—even though he didn’t know how! The final product was a mess, and nearly cost us our best client. All because the project manager couldn’t admit he needed help.
Communication is Key
Information has to keep flowing. This is true whether you’re talking to the client or the team. There is a danger of information overload, but that’s why you should understand each person’s priorities and update them with information they’d find most valuable. It can be as simple as a quick phone conversation or email, or a printed report. Reports can be either short weekly updates, or in-depth presentations. The important thing is that everybody is kept in the loop.
Once you’ve gotten used to managing expectations, you’ll find that project team interactions become much smoother. Clients will trust your word, and your stock will go up. And the best part is that it’s contagious. Other people will pick up the skill, and your organization will become stronger as a result.
Image credit, Flickr, Raymond Bryson