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Project Managers, Manage Those Expectations! (#2 in the series Brief Tips for Project Managers)
By Sondre Bjørnebekk

Excuse me for the use of the exclamation mark in the title. I promise not to do it again, but as this point was beaten to the #1 spot, I just had to do i… I can’t say strongly enough how important I feel this is.

Let’s take a slightly academic approach. Let’s say that customer satisfaction relies primarily on:

  1. What the customer expects
  2. What you deliver in your project

Now, how long do you spend doing 1) and 2) during the whole life cycle of the project? Seriously, do think about it for a minute. I have found that it can sometimes be extreme. That holds true both on a project level, but also on the micro level – haven’t you sometimes spent hundreds of hours tweaking a feature that the customer didn’t actually find that important? Could you maybe just have negotiated that out, perhaps giving something more valuable with less work in return?

Typically I find that way too little time and effort is spent on managing expectations. One way to uncover misaligned expectations is to be explicit about what you are not planning to deliver or do. Expectation management is not a one-off in an early phase, but something that you continue to do at every chance all the way until the project is signed off. Thus I formulate my tip #2 as:

Be sure to use every chance throughout the project to manage expectations

The process of managing the expectations all the way through the project is not only to the benefit of the supplier. Another expression for managing the expectations could actually be to really understand the customer’s needs. So if it is more politically correct, feel free to change the title of the point to “ensure mutual understanding”…

You can talk about managing expectations internally as well (for instance for the team or line management if you are in a matrix organization environment), but I won’t do that here.

That was my tip #2. I look forward to read any comments – even if you don’t agree, or maybe particularly if that is the case.

This article was originally published at in January 2009.

Sondre Bjørnebekk is an experienced project manager with a proven track record. He is currently running his own company, Innovation Consulting. Sondre holds an MSc degree in computer science from NTNU (the Norwegian University of Technology and Science) and an MBA in technology management from NTNU and MIT Sloan. Sondre maintains a Project Management Blog, the Project Management Monkey.

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