Essential Elements of Managing Expectations

Table of contents:

Let's take a look at the essential tools and techniques that are available to the project manager to effectively manage stakeholder expectations.

Project Planning and Control ElementsA Quick Review

At many times during our chapters on defining, planning, and controlling a project, we referenced managing expectations as a key reason or benefit of specific project management tools and techniques. Table 18.2 and Table 18.3 summarizes the most important project management tools, techniques and actions to manage stakeholder expectations.

Table 18.2. Summary of Essential Planning Elements to Manage Project Expectations


Impact on Expectations

Project Definition Document

Defines why we are doing this

Defines what organizational level goal(s) is supported

Defines how this project fits/aligns with the other projects

Defines expected benefits from this project

Defines what will be done

Defines who is impacted

Defines how success will be measured

Scope Statement

Sets boundaries for what will be done, and what will not be done


Allows stakeholders to see the work that must be done

Project Budget

Sets cost and ROI expectations


Foundation for budget and schedule

Assumptions and Constraints

Key for better expectations around estimates, scope, budget, and schedule

Project Schedule

Sets time expectations

Project Plan

Sets expectations for how project will be managed

Project Organization Chart

Identifies and communicates who is involved and how team is structured

Stakeholder Analysis

Defines who is impacted and what their needs are

Communications Plan

Defines how the communications needs of project stakeholders will be addressed

Responsibility Matrix

Set expectations regarding role and work tasks

Project Approach

Stakeholders need to know what is going to happen and why Approach needs to be tailored to best manage stakeholder expectations

Table 18.3. Summary of Essential Control and Execution Elements to Manage Project Expectations


Impact on Expectations

Kickoff meetings

Notification project is underway Facilitates "expectation setting" for the group

Status reports

Regular, consistent performance monitoring and reporting keeps everyone informed

Change control

Allows scope, time, and budget expectations to be reset and controlled along the way

Quality management

Focused on satisfying real customer needs and ensuring solution does the right thing

Risk management

Anticipates, forecasts, and attempts to avoid impacts to the critical success factors

Issue management

Communicates issues to the right people

Requirements management

Drives expectations on the product of the project (more on this later in this chapter)

Completion criteria

Clarifies expectations for any work package

Formal signoffs

Documents acceptance of work products at points in time Used in conjunction with milestone and work product reviews


Validates expectations of work products along the way

Milestones and checkpoints

Validates expectations of project performance along the way

Requirements traceability matrix

Keeps visibility of targeted requirements throughout the project process

Team charter

Communicates team rules and procedures. (more on this in Chapter 19)


Leveraging Kickoff Meetings

Kickoff meetings are a simple but powerful tool to help manage expectations. We could have discussed these in our chapter on project communications (Chapter 17), as is typically done, but they are such an instrumental tool in managing expectations, I felt it was better to do it here.

In general, a kickoff meeting is simple. Get all of the targeted stakeholders together to officially review the project and get it underway. So why focus on this technique? Kickoff meetings are invaluable for accomplishing certain things related to expectation management, and many people either do not do them properly or under-utilize them.

Primary Goals

The three primary goals for any kickoff meeting should include the following:

  • Give official notification that the project (or project phase) is underway
  • Achieve a common expectation baseline for all stakeholders
  • Start the relationship-building process between project team, customers, and other stakeholders

The main factor impacting the nature of kickoff meetings is "where are you in the planning process?" If detailed planning is complete, the kickoff meeting is more of an informational session. If not, the kickoff meeting can be used as a detail planning workshop.


Key Recommendations

With these goals in mind, here are some key recommendations for better kickoff meetings:

  • The meeting size, length, and logistics will vary depending on organizational culture, project size, number of stakeholders, project methodology, and project importance. Plan your kickoff meetings accordingly.
  • As a rule, don't try to do too much or cover everything. Use follow-up, mini-kickoff meetings with focused groups or specific individuals to cover the details.
  • For general kickoffs, get everyone there if possible, especially the executive sponsors.
  • Set context for everyone. Focus on the "why." Review project purpose, objectives, and value to the business.
  • Clarify the priorities, target goals, and the critical success factors.
  • Paint the picture. Enable everyone to visualize how the final solution will look, how it will impact them, and how all the pieces fit together.
  • Get to know each other. Start the relationship-building and teamwork processes. Introduce everyone.
  • Review roles and responsibilities and project team organization. Emphasize each person's role, expected time commitment, and value.
  • Establish your leadership and the energy for the project. Set the tone; generate enthusiasm and motivation.
  • Review important project plan items:

    • Scope and major deliverables
    • General approach (methodology)
    • Critical milestones
    • WBS
    • Schedule
    • Estimated effort and budget
    • Review key assumptions, risks, and constraints
    • Review key project communications processes
    • Review process/procedures for monitoring project performance
  • Whenever possible, hand out team memorabilia at the beginning of the project. It helps to build team unity and project awareness.
  • Ask for feedback. Clarify any confusion now.
  • Ensure people know what to do first/next (short-term). They should be clear on their next steps.


Utilize mini-kickoff meetings at the beginning of each project phase, not just the start of the entire project, to reset expectations.


Requirements ManagementThe Difference Maker

A large percentage of expectation misunderstandings have their origins in the requirements gathering and requirements management processes. The frustrating thing about these situations is that most of these can (or could) be avoided. While the subject of requirements definition is a field of study itself, we will leverage the Pareto principle here. We will focus our attention on addressing the common requirements-related problems and the key principles and guidelines that will make the most difference in your future requirements definition and management efforts.

Common Problems to Avoid

To better understand the value of the recommended principles and guidelines, let's take a quick review of the common problems with gathering and defining requirements:

  • Not well-written Requirements are ambiguous, inconsistent, too high-level, or not clear.
  • Incomplete List of requirements is not complete to properly define the solution.
  • Unstated expectations The list of requirements does not accurately reflect all of the expectations held by the stakeholders for the targeted solution.
  • Inflexible process While specifications do need to be agreed to and finalized at certain points, defining requirements is an evolutionary process and things do change. The system for managing requirements must anticipate this reality.
  • Lack of verification The age-old problem with language. Using statements to describe a targeted solution creates many opportunities for misunderstandings and misperceptions. In most cases, you need to employ other techniques and methods to verify that you are defining the "right" solution.
  • Lack of education Often, the stakeholders who are defining the solution requirements don't fully understand the entire requirements process and the significance or impact of their decisions.

Principles to Remember for Better Requirements Management

To help you develop better requirements and to improve your ability to manage both requirements and expectations throughout the project, let's review the following principles:

  • Requirements definition is an evolutionary process. Plan your project approach and requirements management tools accordingly.
  • Requirements definition process should consist of a combination of gathering techniques. The specific techniques chosen should be based on risks and characteristics of the project.
  • Requirements should describe what, not how.
  • Requirements should avoid any unnecessary constraints.
  • Requirements should be complete, explicit, realistic, and understandable by all parties.
  • Requirements should be linked to the intended solution.
  • Requirements should be prioritized.
  • Listen. Do not pre-judge or draw conclusions too quickly.
  • Strive to convert expectations into requirements.
  • Educate appropriate stakeholders on the requirements process.

Appropriate stakeholders should be educated on the following points at a minimum:

  • Requirements serve as the primary target for the project and as the foundation for detail project planning
  • Walk them through the various techniques and methods to be employed in the requirements definition process
  • Changes to requirements will impact cost and schedule, and they cost more the later in the project they are made
  • Requirements can serve as provisions in contract


Guidelines for Better Requirements


Understanding the process flow will help you identify stakeholders, scope boundaries, change impact issues, and better requirements.

To avoid the common problems identified earlier and to greatly increase your requirements definition prowess, note the following guidelines:

  • Focus on user "experience." Understand how the user interacts with the targeted solution.
  • Understand the user's workflow.
  • Understand the user's work environment.
  • Always ask "why?"
  • Include other non-language exhibits/models as part of the requirements definition
  • To drive out unstated expectations, understand the following from each user representative:

    • What are biggest problems now, and why?
    • What functions or features will be the most useful, and why?
    • What aspect of the new solution are you most anticipating, and why?
    • What are your quality and performance expectations for the final solution, and why?


    Unquantifiable expectations should be identified as project risks.

    Make sure your project assumptions are consistent with your final requirements.

  • To help make better design decisions, define requirements in both present and future needs whenever possible.
  • Identify each requirement with a unique ID.
  • Document any accompanying assumptions.
  • Use a quality checklist to improve the effectiveness of your requirements.
  • Monitor and control changes to requirements.
  • Use a requirements traceability matrix (RTM) to link each requirement to one or more aspects of the final solution. This is a powerful tool to ensure that every requirement is accounted for and to better control "gold-plating."


Translate performance and quality expectations into tangible, documented requirements.

The Absolute Minimum

At this point, you should have a solid understanding of the following:

  • The goal of managing expectations is to have a common set of expectations shared by all stakeholders in terms of what is being delivered, what it will accomplish, when, and at what cost.
  • Managing expectations is more than managing project scope.
  • The master principles of expectation management are

    1. Get buy-in
    2. Take care of business
    3. Communicate the big picture
    4. Listen and be alert
    5. Take their perspective
    6. Never assume
  • Two key tools for managing expectations are kickoff meetings and requirements management.
  • Requirements management mistakes to avoid:

    • Poorly written requirements
    • Incomplete set of requirements
    • Unstated expectations
    • Inflexible process
    • Lack of verification
    • Lack of stakeholder education
  • Other key expectation management tips include

    • Avoid surprises
    • Keep people informed of status (project health)
    • Avoid last minute communications
    • Clearly communicate what is expected by team members

Figure 18.3 summarizes the main points we reviewed in this chapter.

Figure 18.3. Overview of managing expectations.

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.
If you may any questions please contact us: