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The Project Manager’s Guide to Managing Stakeholder Expectations

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Managing expectations within an IT project can be challenging. But not managing them can be far more detrimental in the long term. It can lead to unwanted outcomes, missed deadlines, the delivery of a product that wasn’t wanted to begin with, or a project team lacking motivation and full of mistrust.

However, there are strategies that you can implement as a project manager that can greatly improve stakeholder expectations and deliver better products and happier project teams. In this guide, we outline six strategies you can use to more clearly define your project management processes, identify risks, avoid conflicts, and ultimately deliver on project goals.

1.Know yourself and the project

Much to our surprise, we see many companies fail at the first hurdle. Defining the potential value of delivering a product before the project starts should be the first priority for any IT project manager. However, this often never occurs. This definition and the fixed outcome to be delivered then need to be communicated to the project team so that everyone is clear on the need for the project and what product will be delivered.

You also need to be clear on where you stand in relation to the rest of the project team and what your role will and will not cover. Every project needs a boss, so in the case that it's not you, you need to know who you will ultimately be reporting to.

2.Identify who the stakeholders are

More often than not, there are more stakeholders than at first glance. And understanding each individual stakeholder helps in managing expectations greatly. This includes understanding their interests, how their interests might clash with those of other stakeholders, and at what point in the timeline communications should occur with them.

Engaging stakeholders early is crucial, preferably during the planning stage. This allows them to communicate their expectations and expected involvement to help formulate a commonly agreed set of project outcomes. It also helps reduce the potential for conflict between stakeholders further down the track.

As the leader overseeing the project, you need to make sure that the exact nature of the product to be delivered is agreed upon by all stakeholders in a formal project plan. Software products are notorious for being delivered in a far different form than was initially expected so a formal document outlining what product is going to be delivered should be distributed to all stakeholders.

3.Set a clear scope for the project

Every project has its necessities, wants, and nice-to-haves. Early on in the project you must decide what will, and won’t make the cut - based on project goals and stakeholder expectations. Different stakeholders will undoubtedly aim to prioritise different aspects within the project, yet it falls upon the project manager to fix the scope to meet project timelines and outcomes accordingly.

As different stakeholders try to push for different priorities, you must be very aware of the risks of feature creep. Feature creep can be very detrimental to the success of a project if not managed properly. As a result, rigorous consideration needs to be given to each feature and must be identified as either a necessity, want, or nice-to-have.

Although it may be hard saying no to certain stakeholders, it is often essential that this occurs to ensure the greater success of the project. It is the nature of project management that you’ll never be able to make everyone happy all of the time. Therefore, it's important to focus on being clear and honest when a stakeholder’s desired features cannot be included in the project while still meeting the project’s goals, timeline, and budget. 

4.Actually manage expectations

Understanding the concerns of stakeholders is the starting point for managing their expectations. Primary concerns will differ significantly but can include budgeting, scheduling, risk and feasibility, requirements traceability and progress, performance, reliability, consistency, trade-offs, compatibility with existing systems, software modifications, architecture evolution, etc.

After assessing the concerns of each stakeholder, you can determine to what extent their needs can be met. This allows you to proceed with a clearer idea of risks and issues for other stakeholders and helps make conflict resolution easier. However, as the project progresses, change orders may occur. These need to be carefully managed to ensure that the project does not sway from its original purpose. Stakeholders need to be kept informed of any changes that may impact them.

5.Communication is key

If the secret to success in real estate is location, then the secret to successfully managing stakeholder expectations is communication. Once the project is well underway, you will have spent many hours compiling notes, writing code, managing changes, and overcoming obstacles. This is where communication with stakeholders becomes most crucial.

Clear lines of communication ensure everything is passed on in a timely manner. Regular reports to stakeholders are a great way to maintain constant and effective levels of communication. Making sure reports are tailored to different stakeholders is also important, as they all have unique investments in the project and the information that is relevant to them as a result. Focus on being concise and providing value.

6.Under promise, over deliver

Maintaining good relationships with all stakeholders is a matter of under promising and over delivering. Be clear about expectations from the outset of the project or as changes occur and make sure no one is given false or misleading information.

If you do find yourself making promises, instead of making promises about factors that might be out of your control, promise each stakeholder that you will be accessible and approachable throughout the project. And that you will work with them every step of the way to work through any problems or issues that arise.

Conclusion

Good stakeholder management is essential because it forms the basis of effective project relationships. This means not only identifying your stakeholders but also understanding their interests and particular communication needs at various points in the project. This includes seeking feedback on each stakeholder’s needs early on in the project, maintaining communication throughout the project (including during ups and downs) to create a sound relationship, and understanding how their work and unique challenges both contribute to the ultimate project’s success.

Are you looking for a new Project Manager role? Get in touch with the team at FinXL today.