Have you encountered a project that didn’t turn out the way stakeholders thought it would? Or maybe you discovered that different groups—project team members, leadership staff, sponsors, and end users—each expected different things. Why does this happen? And what can you and your team do to align project results and expectations?
There are all sorts of reasons PMs may face differing expectations, missed targets, and errant assumptions. It’s possible the initial scope assessment was off base due to a lack of research or the use of old or erroneous data. A significant delay can also derail a project and diminish its final worth if it means the company won’t be able to capitalize on favorable market conditions, or will incur unexpected fines or penalties. It may also be that a number of little obstacles occurred along the way and now you realize things are farther off course than you thought.
Though the root causes vary, there are some strategies project teams can leverage to dispel confusion and maintain alignment between expectations and results among the stakeholder groups. One primary tactic every PM should adopt is communicating clearly and often. Without good, current data flowing between team members and stakeholders, the vacuum is sure to be filled by all the things that make a PM’s job more challenging: outdated information, rumors passed along as fact, assumptions that have been passed down the chain of command and interpreted as directives, etc. Strong communication from the project team will help to clear up any misunderstandings. It will also be vital if scope or schedule changes must be made, and will ensure that everyone is operating under the same timeline and set of deliverables.
It’s critical that PMs identify the project’s final value. By understanding the benefits each group of stakeholders expects to reap when the effort is complete, the project team will be better able to drive toward the right endpoint. Is a system upgrade intended to simply bring the company into compliance with industry regulations, or are executives expecting to see measurable productivity improvements when everything is said and done? Does a manufacturing expansion project need to increase the organization’s capabilities to support products currently in the development pipeline, or did sponsors initiate the project because they anticipate additional demand for existing items? Without insight into what the various stakeholders hope to gain, the project team may discover they’ve missed the mark while still achieving the goals that were set out on paper.
Of particular importance during long or complex initiatives is the need to monitor the business environment closely throughout the project’s life-cycle. Mandates and legislation enacted mid-project could mean the team needs to reconsider the original parameters or time-frames. Issues such as updated quality control or testing requirements might impact current project tasks, as well as activities farther downstream. You shouldn’t blindly moving forward or agree to maintain the current course when you know that external pressures—anything from legal obligations to permitting delays, or staffing shakeups to significant changes in the marketplace—call for a fresh look at the schedule. Ignoring the facts will only set stakeholders up for missed expectations later.
Finally, project teams need to acknowledge where expectations may outpace reality. Long lead times during software development initiatives, for example, are notorious for creating situations where the original timing and budget expectations may be disrupted because planned features are no longer competitive in a quickly-evolving market. PMs must maintain engagement with stakeholders throughout the project and work with them to determine how expectations and activities might need to change to maintain alignment with the reality of the situation.