11 Project Management Tips for Setting and Managing Expectations

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.

By Jennifer Lonoff Schiff
Mon, February 17, 2014

CIO — Keeping projects on track -- especially in the face of constant change requests and additions -- is a project manager's greatest challenge. And when project managers don't properly set expectations from the start -- with senior management, the client or their team -- and don't have a strategy in place for dealing with scope creep or last-minute requests or changes, deadlines can suffer.

Project Management Tips

So how can project managers ensure that everyone shares the same goals and expectations? CIO.com asked dozens of IT executives, project managers and project management experts to find out. Check out their top 11 suggestions on how to successfully set, manage and adjust expectations to ensure deadlines are met and tempers don't flare.

[Related: 23 Signs Your Cloud Project May Be in Trouble]

Get involved early (during the planning process). "Expectations, especially for IT projects, tend to get set by senior management without consideration to the details it takes to deliver," says Diane C. Buckley-Altwies, CEO, Core Performance Concepts, a provider of project management courseware and training.

Therefore, it is critical to "take the appropriate amount of time to work with senior management during the planning process to define key measureable objectives that everyone can agree [upon]," Buckley-Altwies says. That way, "when issues arise, the project manager [can] always come back to those objectives and ask management if the issue affects [his] ability to deliver on the objectives."

"If possible, be part of the sales process so that you know what is expected and discussed from the very beginning," says Abie McCauley, digital project manager, Nebo Agency, a web design and interactive marketing firm. "The more you know about the goals of the project, the better you can guide your team to success."

Involve all stakeholders, especially IT. "Whenever I have a project that is clearly IT heavy, I bring all the [IT] guys in the room, from the CIO to a junior programmer, to make sure everyone has input on the timelines and expectations," says Richard Bexon, COO, Namu Travel Group. "This way the guys laying the code or installing a new server 100 percent understand what the project is about and have buy-in."

[Related: Why Are So Many IT Projects Failing?]

Have a clear project scope with sign-off -- and set priorities. "Making sure that you have a very clear scope when starting a project is essential, as people will always try to creep things into the scope," says Bexon.

"Scope containment is the Achilles heel to project management," says Bill Gaffney, corporate development, Applied Robotics. "Even minor changes can accumulate and cause scope creep," he says.

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