5 Tips for Managing Client & Team Expectations

Samantha Freda, Former Project Manager

Article Categories: #Process, #Project Management

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Successfully managing expectations is quite possibly the #1 responsibility of a good project manager.

I recently bought a car. Throughout the entire sales process, I was excited. For my new ride. For the extra accessories and service plan I negotiated into my deal. For the trade-in value I’d get for my old car. I felt great — and a large part of that feeling was because I trusted the sales lead I was working with and felt like I was getting the car for a steal.

Fast forward to the date of purchase. The sales lead reassured me that I would feel wonderful in my new car with all the new comforts and features I’d be able to enjoy.

As I was dreaming about my heated seats and moonroof, I reviewed the final paper work, about to sign my name on the dotted line. But I came to a sudden stop.

I realized that the noted trade in value for my old car was less than what I was previously told.

My daydreams of cruising in my new ride quickly dissipated. And I was pissed.

So what happened? After the dealership took a second look at my car — for whatever reason — they decided the value of my trade-in should be lower than their original quote. Rather than being forthright about this change, it was hidden in the paperwork. They didn’t do a good job communicating or managing my expectations.

The entire process made me reflect back on my role in account services as a project manager. It is my responsibility to ensure there is good communication between the client team and the Viget team developing and producing the work. Managing expectations is quite possibly the most important role of my job. Clear communication, requirements definition, progress updates, scope documentation, pricing, timing of deliverables — these are all key elements of the project that we need to be on the same page about, otherwise frustration and issues are sure to ensue.

[And, in case you were wondering, once the dealership and I sorted out the miscommunication, they made things more than right and I would definitely buy my next car with them again.]

So, below are my top five tips for managing client and team expectations for my fellow PMs:

1. Participate in the sales process

In the words of one of my favorite master PMs, Brett Harned, “loopholes all too often set the stage for scope creep to manifest.”

From the time an RFP comes through the door to the time that a proposal and sales pitch go out to a client, lots of requirements and scope discussions occur. Being involved from the very beginning, hearing what’s discussed and agreed upon first-hand, and also helping to shape the project terms, all provides beneficial context to carry with you during the course of the project. You’ll also be able to establish an early rapport with the client and understand their personality and communication style.

2. Educate the client on the project process

Clients hire us for our expertise and help. No matter how experienced your client is, or what the end goals or deliverables are, the path to project completion will vary and every agency operates differently. Expectations are based on previous experience, so don’t assume they know what’s to come. They often don’t know or understand our process. Educate them! When the client understands why certain components of the process are in place, it builds trust and extinguishes the fear of the unknown. When the client feels more comfortable, they will ultimately be a more collaborative and effective partner.  

At your client kick-off meeting, educate the client on the overall process. What occurs during the various project phases? Why? How long does each phase last? What are common project pitfalls and how can they be avoided on this project? (#Tip: See Viget’s own, Heather Muety’s, tips about how to stay on time and budget)

Throughout the course of the project, let the client know what they can do to be effective and involved. What type of feedback are you looking for from the client? When is the appropriate time to receive it? What tasks do they need to own?

3. Set up weekly check points with your client

PM 101: Set up a weekly touch point with your client. It’s an opportunity to share progress, delays, risks, blockers, and to connect with the client to make sure everyone’s aware of what’s going on and what’s to come. When the client feels like they are in tune with what’s going on with their project, and they are assured that their goals are being met, they are more likely to be at ease.

Over the past few years, I’ve also made it a point to review the status of the budget and timeline on every single status call — at week one and even when things are right on track. Through our project planning and forecasting tools, project managers can typically tell early on if a project is on track or is trending over. This insight should be shared with the client. When projects veer off course, which unfortunately they do sometimes, it’s never fun to share bad budget news. But that’s commonly because the client feels blindsided and that it’s too late to change course. By talking about budget and timeline health every week, these conversations are no longer uncomfortable. Keep the client in the loop and involve them in discussions and decisions to keep the plan on track, when necessary.

4. Plan weekly internal stand-ups and send out weekly tasking messages

At Viget, we’ve found it very helpful to set up internal team stand-ups toward the end of each week (or whatever rhythm is right for your project and team). It’s a quick meeting to discuss what was accomplished during the week and what our goals are for the following week.

To supplement this, our project managers also send out a weekly “tasking” message at the start of each week so the team is in tune with the project plan for the week. This message typically includes:

  • meetings for the week
  • how many hours each team member has on a project for the week
  • tasks/goals for the week
  • who’s out of the office
  • budget/timeline status

5. Embrace transparency, open communication and professional candor

The foundation of any strong client team — or really any — relationship is good, honest and frequent communication. In the words of Michael A. Olguin via Inc, “Any good client relationship will be able to weather setbacks if you are proactive in communicating both good and bad news. When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and helps to create a foundation for long-lasting relationships.”

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