Critical Aspects of Expectations

If you are going to attempt to influence something, you first need to know what makes up that "something." For expectations, there is one key concept and four critical components that need to be understood for effective management.

Balancing Reality and Perception

The key concept is that expectations are shaped by both reality and perception. In an ideal project, both the reality and perception of project objectives, performance, targeted results, and expected impact are aligned up-front among all stakeholders during project definition and planning, and then remain this way throughout the project. However, this ideal situation generally eludes us. Even when expectations are aligned during planning, there are many influences and factors that can alter expectations during the course of the project. This relationship is depicted in Figure 18.1. As a project manager, your challenge is to guide the actual "real" performance of the project, while simultaneously aligning and balancing the perception of each stakeholder. This work is a dynamic, ongoing venture that is only complete when the project is closed.

Figure 18.1. The expectation balance.


Not Just Scope Management

There is more to managing expectations than just managing scope. Now, don't get me wrong; managing scope is a very important part of managing expectations, but it's not everything. There are four critical components of expectations. Each expectation element is important to the success of the project and is subject to the natural push and pull between project reality and stakeholder perceptions. This relationship is portrayed in Figure 18.2.

Figure 18.2. Aspects of expectations management.

Let's review each expectation component in greater detail, explain the specific elements included in each group, and discuss some of the tools and techniques that we can use to help us manage each part.

  • Critical Success Factors This aspect includes the traditional measuring rods of scope, schedule, and budget. In addition, it includes any additional acceptance criteria that you established with your key stakeholders during project definition and planning. The heart of project management (and nearly this entire book) is focused on managing expectations around these elements, but the key tools are a solid project definition document, a realistic schedule, a baselined budget, early detection of performance variances, and disciplined change control.
  • Project Impact This component highlights the "change" impact of the project output (results, solution, work products). It accounts for any work, process, or organizational change experienced by any stakeholder as a result of the project outcome. This aspect is commonly neglected by less experienced organizations and project managers. As Dr. Stephen Covey (a world famous personal development coach and author of The Sevens Habits book series) always says, the key here is to think (and plan) with the end in mind. With this clarity, you can better communicate a common vision of the project outcome and help stakeholders prepare for the changes that will affect them.
  • Work Products This category covers things such as "that's not what I asked for," "that's not what I meant," and "oh no, you gave me exactly what I asked for." This could be considered a part of project scope, but depending upon the level of detail in your scope statement, it may not be adequately addressed. This category deals with the detailed expectations surrounding the individual work products that each stakeholder has. At a minimum, it focuses on requirements management, quality management, and overall project approach. We will discuss key requirements management techniques that greatly improve your effectiveness here.
  • Project Execution This final component deals with the day-to-day execution of the project. While not as critical as the other aspects, a lack of attention to these elements will certainly create situations that can easily lead to underperforming projects, and then to major expectation management activities. This category deals with the efficiency and effectiveness of the project team, and with the confidence the stakeholders have in them to successfully deliver the targeted solution and in you to lead them there. Common elements in this group include interactions between team and client stakeholders, clarity of roles, responsibilities, work processes, and work assignments. We will review many of these elements in greater detail in Chapter 19, "Keys to Better Project Team Performance." In addition, many of the communication and leadership techniques we reviewed in Chapters 16, "Leading a Project," and 17, "Managing Project Communications," come into play here. Important principles to remember here: Make sure team members are prepared for their interactions with stakeholders; do not assume stakeholders have a clear understanding of project processes and their work assignments; always look at the project from their perspective; and proactively review (with a gentle touch) key tasks and targeted completion dates.

The expectation component classifications are academic in nature and there to serve our discussion and review. Many expectation elements could be placed in more than of these categories.

A common mistake made in expectation management is to sell or commit to requirements that cannot be met given the project constraints. This is often done in efforts to get business, make the customer happy, or instill confidence in the team's abilities. The "under-promise, over-deliver" principle is one that reminds us that it is much better in regard to expectation management to promise less and deliver more.

While we have broken down expectations into various components (and have summarized in Table 18.1), it's important to remember: Effective expectation management is not complicated. The success formula for each aspect of expectation management is relatively straightforward:

  • Get real Set realistic expectations; get initial agreement (buy-in) from affected stakeholders; review assumptions and constraints; talk about it; address it; get clarity and understanding
  • Keep it balanced Manage changes; align project reality with stakeholder perceptions; proactively communicate; educate; constantly validate and affirm perceptions; regularly assess performance; reset expectations as needed
  • Follow-through Deliver; honor the agreements; get the work done; "under-promise, over-deliver."

Table 18.1. Summary of Critical Expectation Components

Expectation Area


Key Tools and Techniques


Critical Success Factors

Scope statement;

Project budget;

Target dates;

Performance versus cost versus time;

Acceptance criteria;

Agreement on what defines success

Project definition document;

Project plan;

Change control;

Performance reporting;

Realistic schedule;

Kickoff meetings;

Milestone reviews

Be proactive;

No surprises;

Ensure right people are informed of changes;

Forecast missed deadlines

Project Impact


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs);

Individual work task changes;

Business process flow changes;

Organizational change impact

Acceptance criteria;

Stakeholder analysis;

Prototypes, simulations;

Future workflow models;


Phased implementations

Often neglected;

May need separate deployment project;

Organizational change management plan needed

Work Products



Interim deliverables

Requirements management;

Quality management;

Iterative development;

Prototypes, scenarios, simulations;

Pilot implementations;

Product reviews and signoffs

Get something tangible early;

Heavy customer involvement;

Use internal team QA reviews

Project Execution

Decision making process;

Roles and responsibilities;

Work assignments;

Project processes;

Common goals;

Personal credibility;

Avoids issues;

Team interactions with stakeholders;

Leadership confidence

Responsibility matrix;

Realistic schedule;

Resource plan;

Team charter;

Kickoff meetings;

Walkthrough schedule, processes;

Coaching team members;

Internal reviews

Take other perspective;

Don't assume understanding/clarity;

Be aware of "busy" team members;

Use gentle touch to proactively remind team of key tasks, responsibilities, dates;

Always set context to improve understanding;

Educate along the way

Part i. Project Management Jumpstart

Project Management Overview

The Project Manager

Essential Elements for any Successful Project

Part ii. Project Planning

Defining a Project

Planning a Project

Developing the Work Breakdown Structure

Estimating the Work

Developing the Project Schedule

Determining the Project Budget

Part iii. Project Control

Controlling a Project

Managing Project Changes

Managing Project Deliverables

Managing Project Issues

Managing Project Risks

Managing Project Quality

Part iv. Project Execution

Leading a Project

Managing Project Communications

Managing Expectations

Keys to Better Project Team Performance

Managing Differences

Managing Vendors

Ending a Project

Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
ISBN: 078973821X
Year: 2006
Pages: 169 © 2008-2020.
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