Best Practices in Managing Project Expectations

Updated: Mar 18

Project managers hold a unique position in product, supply and service development. Not only are they responsible to the client in meeting the objectives of a project, they also report directly to their company’s executive leadership. And, in leading the project team, project managers also answer to team members working on the project in maintaining project objectives, timeline and resources.


In short, project managers are tasked with meeting the expectations of a range of stakeholders from the outset of the project. Experienced project managers know that as a project moves forward through phases and its timeline, expectations often change among stakeholders.

It’s important to remember that the project manager is also a stakeholder and has his or her own expectations to manage as well. In failing to recognize and manage expectations from the client, senior management, team members and themselves, project managers can jeopardize the very project they are charged with bringing to a successful outcome.


Boost Midwest knows well from working with its clients that managing project expectations is critical for successful project management and outcomes. Expectations that are unmet lead to resentments, a corrosive emotion for any relationship, project or environment. So, from the start, project managers should engage in managing expectations across all stakeholders, including themselves.

Below, find some of the best practices to manage project expectations:


1. Use a project charter

Creating a project charter forces senior and project managers to clearly lay out exactly what the project is meant to accomplish. If a marketing team is tasked to “create an engaging social media campaign for an established brand, but with a modern twist,” much is left open to interpretation —what does “modern” mean, anyway? Interpretation is subjective and can lead to expectations that aren’t aligned with the rest of the team or project. The charter should clearly define its objective in clearly defined terms. A charter should also include a timeline for meeting the objectives and the project scope.


2. Be clear which expectations will and won’t be met

Part of managing expectations is not only defining the expectations for the project but also clearly noting which expectations will not be met. For this, all stakeholders should take part in an initial discussion of their expectations of the project, including:

  • Client expectations of scope, objective, cost and timeline for deliverables.

  • Project manager expectations of staff resources, objectives, budget and project length.

  • Team members expectations in terms of time, tools and other resources for the project.

Then, each stakeholder should be told which expectations they can expect to be met and which ones will not be — before the project begins. Be sure to document this in your project plan in case you need to refer to it later in the project.

To help define expectations within a team, a project manager should:

  • Establish KPIs and metrics that will be used.

  • Define which tasks depend on preceding tasks being completed.

  • Define each team member’s role and responsibilities.

  • Establish a clear communication plan.

3. Define a change policy

The project charter defined the object and scope of the project at the start. However, every project manager and senior executive knows that changes often occur mid-project. How these changes are handled can make or break a budget, timeline or project goal. Be prepared ahead of time by defining:

  • Which types of changes can be implemented.

  • Which types of change can’t be implemented and why.

  • What resources are available for change.

  • Which issues should be escalated and which should not.

4. Determine levels of engagement

Stakeholder engagement in a project naturally varies. A team member who is logging 40 or 50 hours a week on a specific project will be more engaged than a senior manager reviewing weekly or monthly reports. And client engagement can wildly vary depending on if the client’s style is hands-on or hands-off. For these reasons, defining the stakeholder’s level of engagement is key to managing their expectations and creating a communication plan for each stakeholder group. Encourage stakeholder questions, be available, and leave plenty of time for updates.


5. More tips for managing project expectations:

  • Track issues, activity and changes. Document all issues, activities and changes throughout the project to help assess performances, including that of the project manager.

  • Manage perceptions. How do the project stakeholders perceive the project, and how does this differ from the actual status of the project? All stakeholders perceptions should basically be on the same page if not exactly the same.

  • Manage but don’t micromanage. Team members will appreciate knowing the project manager is there as a resource, if needed. For project managers, keeping workflows in check may be important for the project’s success. After all, most people want to please those in authority, so project managers should be ready to manage a team or team member’s expectation of how much can be accomplished in a given time period.

  • Manage conflict. When conflict arises, refer to the set of expectations set at the project’s start to determine whether the conflict is a personal or professional issue. And rather than putting an immediate halt to the conflict and decide what specific steps to take, try managing the conflict through communication and understanding, while keeping the goals of each person involved in mind.

It takes a little psychology along with professional experience to manage expectations among the range of stakeholders involved in a project. Boost Midwest understands that each project is unique in its stakeholders, parameters and objectives, and that managing expectations should be part of the project plan from the start. In our experience, best practices are the best place to start.

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