Your sports team lost the critical game. Your favorite restaurant closed earlier than you realized. Your anticipated tropical vacation fell apart due to weather and poor planning. In all these instances, it’s the plight of disappointment and missed expectations—a feeling familiar to many. You may often find yourself then resolving to keep your expectations low for fear of disappointment. But that’s no way to live your life, and it’s certainly no way to successfully handle business projects.
Setting and managing expectations throughout a project is vital to the success of the project. Not only do expectations determine project success, but well-managed expectations lead to happier employees, satisfied clients, and increased revenue for your business. Here are some things to pay attention to as you manage expectations for your next project.
Gathering necessary intel
Let’s begin with the definition. Ex-pec-ta-tion (noun): a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. A belief that someone will or should achieve something.
Sounds pretty straightforward right? Well, yes and no. In project management or consultancy, it is clear that something needs to happen as a result of the project. This is our what or the central problem that the project will resolve. The not-so-clear part is the why or the reason for the project. This comes down to the details that are driving the desire of the outcome. It is at this point that the consultant needs to add value and ask the right questions to uncover the real reasons behind the project. This will allow for a clear “shared understanding,” a term borrowed from Jeff Patton from his book User Story Mapping. When you have a shared understanding, you can set meaningful expectations.
Tony Robbins uses a system he refers to as RPM, which helps you flesh out the information you need to set these meaningful expectations.
R – Result: What is it you are expecting as a result from a successful completion of the project?
P – Purpose: This is the Why. Knowing the purpose of the project ensures the focus needed to succeed.
M – Create a MAP (Massive Action Plan): This is the how of the plan. Make a list of all the factors that could move the needle, and highlight the 20% of those factors that will produce 80% of the result (the Pareto principle).
Validating the vision
Laying out these three components is just one part of fulfilling client expectations—you still need to firmly establish that shared understanding. This is the time to validate what each party heard in the conversation and to firmly establish a clear understanding. If this is not done, you can expect more frustration, miscommunication, and scope creep that will result in expectations not being met. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in a failed project for your team.
However, taking the time to communicate about the expectations of all stakeholders can prevent that. Another helpful way to come to this shared understanding is to request the client to paint a picture of their perfect result. With that picture, you can compare their visions to the current state and then map out the path needed to reach that desired result. This can help not only meet expectations but even exceed them.
Addressing the nitty gritty: time and money
Now that you have both the RPM and a shared understanding for the project, you can focus on the two resources that must be clearly defined and established at the onset of the project: time and money. Setting the right expectations and ensuring a shared understanding of these all-important resources is key to successful project delivery.
A common problem is that the purchasing side of a project doesn’t understand all the time that goes into any given service or solution. This happens often in life: only seeing the surface layer and assuming that’s all there is to it. In business, this faulty practice can lead to time allocations that are much too small and threaten the success of a project. To avoid this, the project needs to have honesty and transparency from all parties involved. Use the client’s priorities and needs to determine the timeline and resources needed to deliver results on time and on budget. And determine these things from the very start.
Don’t let the fear of disappointment rule your business. Manage project expectations thoughtfully and carefully to put yourself in control of success. Gather the necessary information with an RPM, validate the vision with a shared understanding, and honestly address time and money. Ultimately, you want to build on a foundation of clarity. Clear expectations reflect clear thinking, and when those expectations are also measurable and mutually understood, you will greatly improve your chances to win.
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