It’s All About ME: Managing Expectations 

It’s All About ME:  Managing Expectations

My 5 year old lost her first tooth. As per standard tooth fairy protocol, we placed the tooth under her pillow with a note. The next morning when she woke up to find that HER tooth was gone and was replaced by coins, she was devastated. “What do you mean the tooth fairy TOOK my tooth! I wanted to keep my first tooth!”. After the meltdown, we knew immediately where we went wrong. We had performed successfully on all three deliverables – the timing, the letter and a prize, however, we realized we had had not clearly stated that the prize replaces the tooth. As a result, we had not appropriately managed her expectations.

The most critical success factor for any project is setting clear and realistic expectations and managing them throughout the entire process.

The project manager must ensure that the expectations of all stakeholders are clearly identified at the outset of the project, and that they are reflected in the business case and project deliverables. Given that expectations are not static, they must be monitored to confirm the goals of the team have not changed during the project.

People are more effective when they are working towards a specific goal and are more satisfied by the outcome if they perceive their goal has been met. 

Goals must be clearly stated without ambiguity, and all parties involved must be in agreement on the engagement’s expectations. Use a methodology such as the SMART rule of goal setting, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound, and translate your goals into an action plan. As the project progresses, reference the initial goals to remain focused on results, and celebrate achievements of goal-related milestones. On a numeric level this can be accomplished via project reporting tools such as GAANT chart, actual to budget and percentage complete; and on a more intrinsic level you can gauge progress via formal interview, survey or even casual conversation.

In order to effectively set, manage or influence expectations, you have to first earn the trust of your client.  

By honestly sharing your knowledge and experiences and showing empathy for their concerns, you can connect with the client and gain the credibility required to execute the change initiative. Second, encourage two way communication throughout the process. Involving stakeholders in goals setting and establishing regular check points will highlight collective small wins and build confidence as the project progresses. Finally, consider both tangible and intangible criteria when managing expectations. Address the obvious project success factors such as functional requirements, realistic budget and a strong team with executive level support; but do not forget the motivations of the affected stakeholders and the importance of their perception of value.

Expectations are deeper and broader than requirements and, in your client’s mind, are the critical measure of the project’s success.  

When you deliver a solution, the key success factor is not the actual outcome in relation to scope, schedule or budget, but how close the client’s perception of received value matched their expectations.

Let’s assume a business case was established for a new CRM system which evaluated the software’s capabilities, negotiated a fair price, and identified the implementation team, timeline and budget. Fast forward to the end of the engagement, where you have met all of this criteria on paper, but your client is not happy with the result. “The new system did not increase sales….”. At this point, responding with “That was an unrealistic expectation” or “You did not tell me that’s what you wanted”, are not going to help your cause. Had this been addressed up front you would have explained that while increasing sales is a reasonable business objective, it is an unreasonable project goal because it is extremely difficult to correlate new sales to the implementation of the new system.

A more effective goal would have been to reduce order processing time, streamline back office administration or give salespeople mobile access to customer information. These goals are measurable and achieving these objectives with the new system could add value to the selling process (an indirect by-product of which could be increased sales). If expectations had been established up front, with the results being measured against achievable objectives, the system implementation would more likely have been perceived a success.

Setting expectations is a very egocentric exercise.

The stakeholders involved in the project will wonder: What’s going to happen to ME? How is this going to affect my job? Is this money coming from my budget? Who is going to do all this extra work? If you set clear direction in terms of functionality, money, roles and responsibilities, with clear expectations of project results, the other human factors associated with the project such as communication, collaboration and change become easier to manage throughout.  Avoid the meltdown


Expectation Management is a key success factor for any project. The topic is the #1 spot on Plan in Motion Inc’s Top 10 Software Selection and Deployment Methodology.

The next installment… At the end of the day, I care about successful outcomes and doing what’s best for my clients. That is another reason why Plan in Motion, Inc. assists customers with software selection. An ERP system, is a long term investment, therefore, a thorough evaluation of your options under the guidance of a process expert is required; (1) a solid business case for the acquisition, (2) an effective business process in place, and (3) a realistic plan of execution established up front.  The upcoming posts review the next step in the software selection process.

Suanne McGrath-Kelly is President of Plan in Motion Inc. in Toronto. Her passion for problem solving and commitment to help clients achieve successful outcomes has made her a trusted executive advisor. She is a known thought leader and mentor in the business community with active involvement on boards and professional associations. She has published dozens of business technology papers and presented on the topics such as Digital Transformation, C-suite Alignment, and Women in Technology. Beyond her love of all things strategy, she enjoys creativity, cooking and the great outdoors.

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