Expectation Management a key component to Project Success

by Guy Ralfe on July 24, 2009

ProjectPlanningWhen we constitute a project we set out the desired project outcome – these are deliverables or key success factors (KSF). Why are these so important and for whom?

As covered in an earlier post of mine Project Management – Planning or Marketing? Projects are undertaken to implement some change – normally to deal with a threat or an opportunity. Projects have a definite start and an end – however the course between these points is an adventure in discoveries of capabilities and possibilities.

We initiate projects by declaring, at the beginning, what the desired outcome the project should produce, however we do not know the exact path to produce this expected outcome! These outcomes are the expectations of the project sponsors. This is a measure of the ‘willingness’ of the sponsors to undertake the project risk to capitalize on the threat or opportunity.

As we journey through the project life cycle we make discoveries of the unknowns – these unknowns invariably force us to change the course (both favorably and unfavorably) to achieve our declared KSF or change the KSF themselves, or worse quit the project.

Think of the project as a ride in a rental car from the airport to a client meeting in the country using your GPS. You plug in the address and the GPS provides an ‘expected’ arrival time at your destination 15 minutes prior to your meeting. You set off and shortly after joining the freeway you see a detour sign taking you off the freeway. At this point the GPS recalculates the routing down some secondary roads projecting your arrival at the scheduled start of the meeting. You do not have insight into the length of the detour but the traffic is backed up now. So an assessment is made to follow the GPS and reroute down the country roads. You drive through open country for over an hour still with an expected arrival time at the start of your meeting, when you come upon a flooding river that has submerged the bridge ahead. At this point you are only 10 minutes from your destination but the next river crossing means retracing your route back to the detour and following the freeway round, a 2 hour minimum duration. Most would give up on their meeting, but just before calling to cancel a heavy truck comes from the opposite side and crosses the submerged river and it appears the water is only 4-5 inches deep. You look at your economy rental – what do you do?

This is the situation the project sponsors find themselves in when they have to evaluate new unforeseen situations. If the driver has years of off-road experience they might make the assessment they can cross and it is worth the risk to attend the meeting. If not they will call to cancel and rearrange the meeting or do it via conference call from the side of the river. The expectation is still the same but the background by which the assessment is made is what differentiates the outcome.

Things to consider when evaluating the ‘detours’ of your project:

Background – What does this project now mean to the future of the sponsors? Are they an off-roader and the KSF are still looking achievable?

Value – What are the feasible limits of the project? A project will not be constituted for the sake of achieving the bare minimum. Look to understand at what point the project loses effectiveness from a cost, time, resource or quality point of view.

Situation – Does the threat or opportunity still exist or has it changed since initiation? Do they have a truck at the client site? Or can you conference call in?

When these unknowns present themselves they are reported back through project board meetings – but in effect all we are doing is performing expectation management. Expectations about what the project can and will produce, at what cost, by what date etc. These expectations are evaluated by the project board against their criteria for initiating the project, the current situation and a perceived value.

Manage the outcomes relative to the expectations of the project board and you can steer a project to success!

Related Articles

Previous post:

Next post: