How Project Managers Can Manage Everyone’s Expectations

Project managers don’t just manage a project. Beyond accounting for budget and time while ensuring tasks and milestones are complete, they also have to manage people from multiple angles and manage each individual’s expectations so that everyone is on-side and moving in one direction at the same time.

It’s not an easy task! Managers can make it easier by managing expectations around projects. By managing expectations, everyone understands the general outlines of a project and how they play a role within it. It helps avoid scope creep and keeps employees from feeling overwhelmed.

Expectations are different depending on which part of the project we’re discussing, so let’s break down how to manage expectations concerning three main categories: stakeholders, your boss, and your team.

Managing Your Stakeholders’ Expectations

The first step in managing your stakeholder’s expectations is understanding who your stakeholders are. Depending on a project, stakeholders can include everyone, from the client to the customer. That’s why it’s essential to hold a kickoff meeting and bring all relevant stakeholders together. By understanding your stakeholders in a given project, you’ll be better able to deal with them later.

You’ll also want to manage stakeholders differently and provide relevant information (instead of all the information all of the time). Keeping them in the loop by delivering pertinent regular updates is essential. At the kickoff meeting, provide stakeholders with information about the process and timing of project milestones to understand what to expect and when to expect it. Along the way, share any evidence and research so that they can see progress in the form of numbers and reliable information. It will help you build trust and keep communication channels open.

Stakeholders want to see progress, so show meaningful progression at regular intervals. Depending on the length of the project, manage expectations around communication and then stay consistent. Regularly sync up with stakeholders via pre-approved communication channels such as:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • Conference calls
  • Community meetings or special stand-ups
  • Website updates
  • Social media posts
  • Newsletters

Managing Your Boss’s Expectations

Even managers have bosses they have to answer to, and those bosses have their expectations about how projects should be run and handled. At the outset, it’s essential to understand the expectations around the job (or project) from your boss’s point of view and ensure your expectations are aligned. Ensure you have documentation concerning the scope of your work concerning the project and a clear set of performance expectations.

Like stakeholders, your boss will want to understand the state of the project at any given time. It’s essential to be transparent with them, even if everything isn’t running smoothly as one would hope. Instead, use updates as an opportunity to communicate what’s working (or not) and an avenue for your boss to understand your role. They’ll appreciate you more if they get a macro view of the workflow coming to and from you. 

Sometimes this communication will require raising red flags. While it may be painful to do so, providing your boss with “only good news” and hiding issues won’t help the project in the long run and may even prevent problems from quicker resolution. Your boss, after all, may have more pull than you. For example, they may be able to push back on stakeholders or other departments that are causing scope creep. That’s why it’s important to communicate often and not hide any ugliness. 

Managing Your Teams’ Expectations

As a manager, your team members will look to you for guidance and will likely form work habits and expectations based on your management style. Therefore, it’s important to model the behavior you’d like to see. For example, if you value time, make sure you are modeling behavior that showcases you value their time as well (i.e., don’t show up late to meetings).

At the outset, it’s critical that you clearly define each person’s role on your team. If necessary, sit them down, and be honest about the responsibilities and challenges. You can also do a kickoff meeting with your team and go over roles. That way, everyone understands who does what and what they should be prepared to take on during a project. Express your desire for transparency and open lines of communication. If each team member knows what to expect, what they are covering, and knows how to reach you to discuss aspects of the project, you’re likely to catch problems or potential problems quite early and be able to nip scope creep in the bud.

Don’t forget to use each project as an opportunity to help your team learn and grow individually. Offer tasks and work responsibilities to help team members excel and grow and embrace learning activities that can help their professional advancement (such as time for courses or certifications). If everyone sees potential for growth and advancement, they are more likely to stick around longer and more likely to become more valued, trusted members of the company.

Also, with the changing professional landscape across industries writ large, it’s essential for you to, as a manager, show flexibility. Trying to exert too much control over factors that don’t benefit the project or the company’s bottom line will drive the most gifted team members away. Look for ways to introduce more flexibility and more autonomy and tie the rewards of this freedom to hitting milestones and turning over quality work. That way, your team will be more content, and you’ll be delivering higher value to your department as the project unfolds.

Conclusion: The Secret? Transparency

No matter whose expectations you are managing in a project, one key theme crops up again and again: transparency. By not being opaque and sharing as much information as you can as soon as you can, you are more likely to be able to deal with problems that are smaller before they spiral out of control. That means projects are less likely to get derailed in time, money, and poor execution.

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