How to Strengthen the Journey of Project Expectation Management

Apr 10, 2019

How to Strengthen the Journey of Project Expectation Management

Imagine a road.

Somewhere in the middle, the road splits into two roads, diverging to create two potential journeys.

Conversely, you could look at that picture and see instead two roads, two different journeys coming together into one common path, one unified destination in mind. It is all about your perspective. Show that image to a group of people and they would probably see it both ways, perhaps a 50/50 split.

The Complications of Project Management

And that is the challenge in starting projects for all project managers. All stakeholders will have expectations set in their minds through conversations, presentations, emails, proposals and business cases, phone calls, and more. There may well be some “official” definition of the end result intended but that doesn’t mean everyone one is thinking exactly the same.

I worked on a major program many years ago and spent more than six months working with a client on a solution definition document. It was a masterpiece, even if I say so myself, of format and design and it listed, or at least was intended to list, every anticipated outcome from this program of change. It took another three months to get this multi-volume document signed off. And as soon as it was, it was out of date.

Actually, if I am honest, it was out of date even before it was signed off, but the demand for such a tome was there and compliance was expected.

What was delivered in the end, some two and half years later for the final delivery, bore only a medium level of similarity to what I spent months compiling at the start.

Managing Expectations at the Start of a Project

Here’s a different image: a handshake. Two hands clasped in friendship and bond and now you have the visualisation of the start of any project. The pre-work has been done, the business case signed off, the stakeholders aligned, and the project manager in place, with their team poised and ready to bring about a successful change along with all of those wonderful business benefits.

It is indeed a happy time, but often short lived.

This project is going to be different, this project is going to really deliver, this collective of like-minded stakeholders will work together in perfect harmony for the best interest of all involved and the organisation.

But what often results is a third image. And in this image the two hands clasped in an affirmative handshake are transformed into two hands instead gripped in a battle of wills, an arm-wrestle of intention, with only one winner possible.

Sadly, this is all too often what happens within a few months, or even weeks in some cases.

This period can be known as the ‘journey of expectation management’ and to be a successful journey that converges all paths, instead of diverging them, requires a very open mind from all involved and an acceptance that the true and valued business change will actually evolve during this period of time, and cannot be defined way before the project even begins.

How to Create Successful Expectations

The key to a successful journey of expectation is as follows:

  • Culturally, all stakeholders understand that what is required is an open-mind, a willingness to accept and adapt to proven changes to the business solution, and not to be rigidly defensive of what has gone before, even if this appears to be the safe option.
  • As the major stakeholder communities come together, they will need to accept that there is a steep learning curve for all involved since no one has the exact same understanding of a project and the entire solution has to stay in line with the current business needs.

This is a less “safe” path, with trust of all stakeholders critical, but it is the only way to a single path. The alternative is the divergence into two paths or more heading off and away from each other.

Real World Expectation Management Offers a More Productive Road

The “old way” delivers, typically, three stages to a project:

  1. Set Expectations: Formalised definition of expected outcomes and formal sign off on these outcomes.
  2. Manage Expectations: Sponsor and project manager work together to control all expectations around this definition.
  3. Deliver Expectations: Project delivers, through strong change control, the outcome and, assuming a successful delivery, expectations are met.

The “new way” offers an alternative:

  1. Understanding Expectations Set: All stakeholders understand the starting point, or foundation of expected outcomes, but remain open to change, if such change is proven to be of real value.
  2. Influencing Expectations: From this point, the original expectations can be changed and the sponsor, project manager, and all team members are there to consider and adopt valuable adjustments to the foundational outcomes.
  3. Exceeding Expectations: Since the outcomes and expectations move and adjust to the current business needs, informed by the growing understanding of all stakeholders, then the final results are often far better suited and of value to the business needs.

There are many paths that can be followed but, with the journey of expectation management, there will only be one true path in the end.

Get Your Project on the Right Path

The team at Mavenlink knows that even with the right expectations, projects can go in the wrong direction. Find out how to put them on the right path with Mavenlink’s ebook, “How to Rescue an At-Risk Project.”

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