We all have expectations in life. We expect the bus will arrive on time according to it’s schedule. We expect the fruit we buy is fresh and will stay that way until we get it home from the store.

When the bus is late, or our strawberries turn out to have mold on the bottom of them, it’s easy to get upset; reality just did not live up to our expectations. Reasonable or not, we all have a clear idea of how things should work out. When it comes to our interactions with a brand or business, our expectations can colour the way we feel about the experience. It’s the same for your clients. They will have expectations of their interaction with you.

It’s not about lowering your client’s expectations of your brand, your team or your project; it’s about making sure that those expectations are reasonable, realistic and above all achievable. The gap between what a customer expects and what they receive is at the core of most complaints and issues that arise after the delivery of your product, project or service.

Mind the Gap
Your customers come into your business establishment or arrangement with some preconceived expectations, whether they realize it or not. In some cases, they have an extremely optimistic point of view about how your project or service will benefit them; in other cases, it’s not as clear.

Understanding how your customers perceive the project or your service and what they expect to get from the deal is an important facet of project management and one that is often overlooked. If your customer comes into a project expecting result “A” but gets result “B”, they will not be truly satisfied or happy. If, however, you talk with them about their expectations and discover they do not have a realistic idea of what you can do for them in the timeframe and parameters specified, you can help them understand the true value of what you are offering and to have realistic expectations of what to expect.

You can’t force customers to want what you are selling or what you can provide, but you can give them a clear idea of what to expect and ensure there are no unpleasant surprises upon delivery. In many cases, a client sees only the desired results and then sets unrealistic or lofty goals that simply can’t be achieved in the time or budget allotted for the project.

Beware of unrealistic expectations. Address them early in the project management process.

Managed, Not Lowered Expectations
Managing expectations isn’t about letting your clients know you’re going to do a subpar job, or trying to get them to lower their expectations of your product or service. Instead, it is about setting expectations that your team can actually achieve in a reasonable way. If the client’s expectations are so lofty that they are impossible to achieve – then you’ll never serve their needs as well as you could.

For project management, ensuring your client, or even those in the C-Suite, know what your group can reasonably accomplish with the tools is critical. Once you deliver the project, your client will be comparing the results with their preconceived notion of what they thought you'd deliver. If the gap between the expectation and reality are too far, they won’t be happy.

How can you strike the right balance between setting a reasonable and realistic idea of what you can do without undercutting your selling efforts?

It’s all about ME (Managing Expectations)

When you take on a new project it is very easy to overlook the critical component of managing client expectations to successfully deliver on the project. The process of onboarding project team members includes both internal and external, or client members. Pay close attention to this process and you’ll find your deliveries go better and your customers report a higher level of satisfaction with your brand.

Expectation Management is Crucial
Expectation management impacts all aspects of your project. Your client should have a good idea of the time your project will take, and the materials involved. Other critical factors that expectation management can help with include the scope of work, the budget you are limited to and the project milestones.
Even dealing with stakeholders requires the fine art of expectation management, since you’ll need to be very sure you are not perceived to be falling short of some unspoken but real goal they are expecting to achieve.

Whose Expectations Need to Be Managed
You may find you need to employ expectation management techniques at several points during any given project – and not always with your client. Ensuring that the client knows what to expect will allow you to hand over work with confidence. It can also prevent costly rework or revisions, when the piece you deliver does not meet all the needs of the client or stakeholder.

Your Team
It’s often overlooked but managing the expectations of your own internal teams can not only reduce strife, it can improve your overall culture and morale. By understanding what each person is responsible for and the role they play, you’re simply better equipped to collaborate and less likely to run into surprises. A few components to clarify with your team include:

  • How much time is allotted for the project.
  • Which team members are responsible for which project aspects.
  • What limitations may be impacting the team’s ability to deliver.
  • What opportunities exist to impress and exceed expectations.

When everyone on your team has a clearly defined idea of not only their own roles, but the roles of others on the project, you’ll be more likely to avoid situations of resentment or miscommunication between team members.

The Client Team
Knowing who the client stakeholders are on a project and what role they play can have a direct impact on outcomes. If your chief stakeholder has no programming background and is not good with technology in general, they may think your team can come up with exactly what they want in a very short amount of time and on a limited budget. If they do not understand what goes into the components of your project, they will have no true way of measuring how long something should take or how it should perform when you are done.

Understanding where your client is coming from provides you with a starting point. Being aware of what expectations they have going into the project can help you determine if a reality check is needed to fully define what you can and can’t deliver. It is not always a fun conversation, but if you approach it from the point of view that you are helping your client avoid wasting time and money, instead of causing a problem, you’ll feel better about speaking up.

Who is responsible for managing expectations?
In most cases, the project manager is in charge of managing expectations; good communication skills and people skills will come in handy here. Your project manager needs to be able to manage both internal expectations within your organization and external ones of the client.

In some cases, the client or internal project team simply do not have realistic expectations. When this happens, the project manager needs to be able to push back providing a clear, definitive answer on what can and can’t be done. Giving the project manager the autonomy and authority to push back and provide the right expectations is critical to success.

Conclusion
Expectation management is not a one-time thing; it may need to happen multiple times during a project; being prepared for this will help you spot opportunities and improve your overall outcomes and satisfaction ratings.

In a way, a project manager needs to function as a coach; they need to be able to celebrate victories, manage losses and ensure that everyone knows what each member of the team is responsible for. Internally, a project manager that is expectation savvy can help drive a team to success, since they will consistently meet or exceed expectations.
Simply being aware of the need to manage expectations and that some clients and even internal team members may approach a project with preconceived is a considerable step in the right direction. Communication techniques, like listening, asking, and clarify are critical. Making expectation management a routine part of your project management process is key. It’s not about lowering a client’s expectation but understanding what they truly think will happen, and then working to bring those expectations in line with reality.

Main photo by Andrew Spencer on Unsplash