The need to effectively manage stakeholder expectations is a consistent theme in the PMBOK® Guide. This goes beyond the simple delivery of specified requirements -- it covers all aspects of a project's work and the manner in which it's accomplished.
The first element is to ensure the project's deliverables will actually meet the requirements of the project. Failure to do so means an unsuccessful project. Take the time to ask the right people the right questions -- after all, they expect your deliverables to work.
The next step in building success is to map the expectations of the key stakeholders. Do you really understand what they expect from the project?
Accurately mapping expectations requires skillful listening and the ability to decipher what's meant, not just what's said. Don't be afraid to enlist senior management to ask questions on your behalf. As you begin to understand your stakeholders' expectations, they will fall into two groups: realistic and unrealistic.
Realistic expectations still need managing. Make sure you can fulfil them -- then make sure the stakeholder knows you are meeting them. Your communication plan must present the right information to the right stakeholder in the right manner.
Unrealistic expectations are more difficult to manage. They are unlikely to be met, and when you fail to achieve the "impossible," the project will be deemed a failure. Fortunately, expectations are not fixed, but exist in a person's mind and can be influenced or changed.
The key to shifting stakeholders' expectations is to provide new and better information.
Developing a communication strategy that brings the right information to the stakeholder's attention in a believable fashion is a subtle art. This is particularly tricky when advising upward with the goal of changing senior managers' expectations. (I'll write more on this in my next post.)
What challenges have you faced in managing key stakeholders' expectations? How have you found success in managing and meeting those expectations?
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