Setting Reputable Expectations and 5 Mistakes to Avoid

June 24, 2014

If you’ve been involved in project management, then you’ve likely come across a scenario where expectations were missed or not met. Expectations have many forms, and are not related to only one facet of a project; they are likely intertwined and cannot be separated from one another.  Expectations with the budget, timeline, and resource commitments tend to be the most common during the initial planning phase of any project, but what about the reputable expectations being set?

During the initial planning, you’re not only setting expectations with your client directly related to the project, but you are also setting reputable expectations for yourself and your organization. It is at this point you must be cognizant of what is being presented. Do you want to be known as the person/organization who over commits and under delivers, or one who is true to their word and can deliver as promised?

As project managers, we may not always be the person making the executive decisions on the promises being set forth with our clients, though we need to stay accountable and bring awareness to any decisions about to be made that may not be achievable, realistic or timely.

So what are some common mistakes that we as project managers need to be aware of that put a person or organization’s reputation on the line?

1)   Making the Sale

It’s happened to the best of us where all the leg work is complete (requirements reviewed, risks assessed, resourcing accounted for, estimates complete, contingency added, timelines and schedules all planned out, etc.), then someone steps in and “fixes” the numbers in order to win the business.

Risks to Reputation:

  • The expectations no longer align with the planned deliverables.
  • As an organization, you are sending mixed messages. “Why did the numbers change?” “Who is correct?” “What are we really getting now?”
  • Your organization does not look like a cohesive team.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Keep all decision makers aware of the expectations being set with the client.
  • Meet with those who will have authority to change the overall cost. Don’t just assume they are reading all the material being sent–even if they say they are.
  • Explain how you came to those numbers; support your conclusions.

2)   “Of Course We Can Hit That Deadline”

Sometimes project managers feel the best thing to do is to agree with their clients and do whatever it takes to meet their needs, even if it means agreeing to deadlines that they cannot meet.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Loss of client confidence by missing the deadline agreed upon.
  • Friction created internally by forcing a strain on resources in order to meet a deadline.
  • More issues created by rushing through the process and not doing due diligence.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Ask if this deadline is realistic before you commit.
  • Speak with your assigned team and find out what their thoughts are.
  • Review your resource pool and put in a request prior to committing.

3)   “Resourcing Isn’t an Issue”

Agreeing to assign more resources to a project based on a request, or due to deliverable dates slipping can be a mistake if done prior to confirming resource availability.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Having to readdress the issue, post commitment. Expectations are reset once again, as resources are not available.
  • Timelines adjusted then missed based on “newly” committed resources not being available.
  • Issues and mistakes arise due to current resources being overloaded in lieu of access to new/more resources.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Ask yourself, “What does your current resource pool look like?  Do you have authority to assign resources?”
  • What is the process and length of time required in order to acquire the additional resources assigned?
  • Is an additional resource even required? Will there be a positive impact to having one assigned, or will there be too many resources committed with not enough work?

4)   “Of Course We Can”

We all want our clients to be happy at the end of the day, but committing prior to performing research and due diligence into the requirements/deliverable can lead to even bigger problems.  The end result is likely compromising and/or detrimental to the business.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Returning to your client empty handed leaves your ability to deliver in question.
  • Loss of credibility. Why would you agree to something you can’t do?
  • Shows lack of knowledge about your own organization, product or services.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Table the request as a take away to be discussed internally with your team and provide feedback at a later date.
  • Ask yourself if this is even something you “think” could be done by your organization, or does it sound so far out the realm of what your organization does.
  • Do you have the knowledge and expertise to be making this decision and who is supporting it? Include a second opinion before you commit.

5)   The Quick Fix

Similar to the “of course we can” scenario above, promising a quick fix because a bug or issue has been flagged can sometimes make the situation worse without consulting your team.

Risks to Reputation:

  • The resolution provided is likely broken or falls short of expectation due to short cuts made to proper processes and procedures.
  • More issues ensue due to poor quality assurance in providing a resolution around process.
  • The fix, though promised to be quick, takes longer than expected.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Do not commit to a fix before it is well defined.
  • Ask how critical is the fix and when is it required? Know how much time you have before you agree to any terms.
  • Do you have the right resources assigned to fix or resolve the issue?

Final Take Away

As project managers we are aware that projects are dynamic, changes arise, issues occur and problems need to be dealt with. Having a well-structured plan and contingencies in place help mitigate the fallout. However, setting proper expectations on how it will all be handled will help maintain healthy relationships with your client. No matter the phase of a project, we must be diligent in the assessment of our commitments that impact not only our client’s projects, but our reputations both individually and as an organization.