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11 project management tips for setting and managing expectations

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | Feb. 18, 2014
Project management experts discuss the best ways to set, manage and adjust expectations to ensure that projects don't veer off course -- and they suggest what steps project managers should take if they do.

Try to identify potential pain points.
"There are a lot of variables going into every design project and even with infinite preparation, every aspect still wouldn't be known," explains Dan Bodenstein COO, Boulder Engineering Studio. "Being clear about this upfront sets an expectation for the unknown. However, trying to identify points along the development cycle where surprises are likely at the outset helps relations with the client, positions them to respond quickly and can keep projects closer to schedule."

Set up calendar reminders for milestones.
To keep projects and team members on track, "set up calendar notifications, alerting the team when steps should be completed and due dates," says Alexis Chrzanowski, account executive, Sales & Marketing, Innovative Facility Solutions. "Setting up these notifications keeps everyone's mind in the right place and right stage of [the] project.

Have an escalation strategy.
"Nothing ever goes exactly to plan," says Joseph Czarnecki, vice president, Product and Sales Support, IPS Learning. "To keep expectations [in] check, work with management to develop clear guidance on what needs escalating and what does not need escalating because not everything will," he says. "Then discuss that guidance with your team regarding what and when issues need to be escalated and how to escalate, giv[ing] your team the accountability (and responsibility) to solve what they can at their level."

Hold regular status meetings — and set up reminders to ensure everyone attends.
"We have regular client bi-weekly reviews either via a conference call or a face-to-face meeting," says Paula Tompkins, founder and CEO of ChannelNet, which delivers digital customer acquisition, retention and conquest services.

For these meetings to be productive, however, "it's important to be open, honest and inclusive," she says. "Direct communication between all concerned parties is the best and most efficient way to deliver a quality project, based on our 29 years of experience," Tompkins says.

"We make sure that we have daily scrum meetings [Agile] with all stakeholders so that everyone knows where everyone is," says Bexon. "This allows us to communicate and overcome any roadblocks or issues that exist and to work as a team."

Don't be afraid to communicate bad news — and adjust expectations.
"If anything happens that will affect the deadline of your project, let all stakeholders know immediately," says Mike Vitale, CTO at TalkPoint, which specializes in browser-based audio and video webcasting. "Nothing good ever comes from trying to hide a problem. Always be clear and concise when communicating issues, and get to the point quickly."

"All projects will have roadblocks," says Clarke. The key is "to disclose the problems promptly and as honestly as possible," he says. "More often than not, the client and management will appreciate being brought into the loop earlier rather than later."

And when presenting bad news, be sure to also present options for dealing with roadblocks to minimize delays and frustration.


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